Former UMD employee sues over sexual orientation discrimination

Angie Nichols filed the lawsuit against the Board of Regents last Wednesday.

David Clarey

A former administrator claims the University of Minnesota-Duluth discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation and disability.

In the lawsuit filed against the University’s Board of Regents in Hennepin County District Court last Wednesday, Angie Nichols — the former director of UMD’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services — alleged that she experienced months of discrimination and faced retaliation after she raised concerns about the school not renewing the contracts of four openly gay or bisexual UMD women’s athletics coaches. 

The school’s decision over the coach’s contracts sparked a wave of criticism at UMD from students, advocates, lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton. 

As a result of the school’s decision, a national LGBTQ advocacy group — Campus Pride — struck UMD from its nationwide ranking of top LGBTQ-friendly campuses.

After 15 years at UMD, Nichols resigned from her role last September, but claims the school created “an environment designed to force [Nichols] to resign,” according to court documents.

“UMD treated [Nichols] with hostility and retaliated against her because she reported sexual orientation discrimination to UMD, made statements to the public that she believed that the four GLBT coaches were terminated due to their sexual orientation, and because she is openly gay and advocated for equality at UMD,” according to the lawsuit. 

Nichols’ claims follow a lawuit filed last September by three of the coaches who did not receive renewed contracts. The lawsuit asserts that they were discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender, age and advocacy for gender equality. 

In December, three of the former coaches and five former or current UMD student-atheletes lodged a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against UMD. The complaint affirms that UMD treated women’s athletics unfairly and created a culture of exclusion at the school. 

Lynne Williams, UMD’s marketing and public relations director, said the school is aware of the lawsuit and “prepared to dispute the allegations through the legal process.” UMD plans to fill the LGBT director position this summer, she said. 

When reached on Monday, University attorneys said they were not prepared to make comments at the time.