Former coaches file suit

The three claim discrimination forced them out of their jobs at University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Brian Edwards

Claiming they were discriminated against, three former University of Minnesota-Duluth coaches are suing the University’s Board of Regents.

The federal lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court  alleges that UMD’s Chancellor Lendley Black and Athletic Director Josh Berlo promoted a culture of discrimination and exclusion within the athletic department. 

Some claims allege the school singled the three women out based on their sexual orientation, gender, age and their advocacy for gender equity. 

Sexism and homophobia are alive at the University of Minnesota-Duluth,” said former UMD women’s head hockey coach, Shannon Miller, who is one of the three women part of the joint lawsuit,  to reporters on Monday

Miller, along with former head softball coach Jen Banford and former women’s basketball head coach Annette Wiles — who are all openly gay— claim their time at UMD was rife with discrimination.

The lawsuit also alleges Miller and Banford, who are Canadian, were discriminated against because of their nationality.

Miller’s contract wasn’t renewed last year, even though school officials said they would renegotiate her contract, the complaint said, but her contract wasn’t renewed for financial reasons, the University claims. 

Miller previously took a pay cut in 2010. 

UMD is in the midst of a $6 million budget shortfall.

The women’s hockey program, founded by Miller, won five national titles under her direction.

Banford, who was also the hockey program’s director of operations, didn’t have her contract for that position renewed. While she would have potentially had to take a morethan 25 percent pay cut to continue as head softball coach, UMD never made an offer, the complaint said.

In June, Wiles resigned, citing  a hostile work environment, where she claims she was ignored and ostracized after she came out as gay in 2013.

“We have what we believe to be an extreme case of gender issues,” Dan Siegel, one of the women’s attorneys, said at the press conference.

The alleged discrimination included frequent hate-mail from within the school’s athletic department and Miller and Banford’s exclusion from a community golf event.

Although the coaches haven’t specified the amount of damages they are seeking, Siegel said at the press conference that the women would like to see a leadership change at UMD, along with an emphasis placed on equity. 

In an emailed statement, Black denied the allegations and said the school will defend itself at trial.

“UMD continues its focus and commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion,” he said in the statement. “I am personally committed to continuing an environment where diversity is embraced.” 

Siegel said the recent resignation of Angie Nichols, former director of Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Services at UMD for 15 years, bolsters the suit filed against the University Monday.

“We have been unfortunately a witness over the last nine months to a purge of women coaches at the University of Minnesota-Duluth,” he said at the press conference. 

The lawsuit comes nearly two months after former Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague resigned after he sexually harassed two female colleagues, with more complaints surfacing since then. 

And last year, the University of Minnesota paid nearly $360,000 to former golf coach Katie Brenny after a judge ruled that she was discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

“The Board remains committed to the values of equality and inclusion across the University system,” board Chair Dean Johnson said in an emailed statement.