EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) — Three former top collegiate coaches have filed a federal lawsuit against University of Minnesota-Duluth.
They say they were fired for being women or for their sexual orientation.
UMD did not renew Shannon Miller’s contract after she coached the hockey team to five national championships in her 16 years as head coach.
UMD Basketball coach Annette Wiles resigned in June after seven seasons, citing an unhealthy work environment.
And Jen Banford declined the school’s offer to remain UMD’s softball coach after it eliminated her job as director of women’s hockey operations.
In 1998, pushed by the requirements of Title IX, which demands equal opportunities for women at schools receiving federal funding, the UMD hired Miller to be the school’s first-ever women’s hockey coach.
“She is probably, without doubt, the most successful women’s ice hockey coach in the United States,” attorney Dan Siegel said.
Yet, despite Miller’s success, the 51-year old, who is also gay, was forced out. The school cited financial reasons, claiming a $6 million deficit. Yet Siegel says administrators never asked or offered Miller a pay cut.
Former coach Miller blames a homophobic culture at the school, which she says was perpetrated by the administration and Athletic Director Josh Berlo.
“We don’t believe it’s a financial issue at all,” Siegel said. “The amount of money at stake here is trivial.”
Siegel points out that Miller was paid substantially less than UMD men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin.
Miller wasn’t the only women’s coach who left, citing discrimination, hostility and gender inequality. Former softball coach Banford and basketball coach Annette Wiles joined Miller in filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Board of Regents and UMD.
“There was a shift, and a really strong shift, that was the most abrupt, ignorant and rude treatment I’ve ever received in my entire life as a professional,” Miller said.
UMD Chancellor Lendley Black issued a brief written statement, saying, “We continue to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit.”
Miller calls it a matter of fairness and says stepping forward gives her nothing to fear.
“What do you have to fear?” Miller said. “I don’t think there’s anything to be scared of as long as we come forward, stand strong and tell the truth.”
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Monday and is assigned to Judge Richard Kyle.