BUFFALO, Minn. (KMSP) - A high school senior says she was cut from the Buffalo junior varsity hockey team in retaliation for formal complaints she made against the male coaching staff.
Erin Nieman, 18, says coaches would intimidate and bully players in the locker room and on the ice. After talking to teammates, she wrote a formal letter to school administrators and expressed her discomfort in a meeting with the athletic director.
"None of the other girls were willing to stand up to the coaches. I became like a spokesperson,” Erin told Fox 9. "They had multiple coaches in the room with one female, and the way they interacted with her was telling her she was an awful person, an awful skater, she didn't deserve to be a captain.”
The very next season, Erin was released from the team. The coaches told her it was because she didn’t have the skill set, but Erin believes she was retaliated against for filing a complaint.
“She was good enough to play before she complained, she wasn't good enough to play after she complained,” said Erin’s attorney Andrea Jepsen with the School Law Center in St. Paul.
Jepsen points out that Erin played junior varsity for four years before being cut her senior year. She also says that after the cut, the team was left with so few players that they have to bring down girls from Varsity for games.
“For a young woman who has played for so long—for a school that needs players—for an organization that doesn’t place standards on admission to its junior varsity team—it becomes concerning.”
But Jepsen says the actual complaint isn’t the issue herd. Instead, it’s that Title IX protects young women who speak up when they feel uncomfortable.
"We should be able to participate as young women and feel that it's a safe environment and if we don't feel comfortable we can be able to report it without being retaliated against,” said Jepsen.
Jepsen has sent a letter to the district asking that Erin be reinstated to the team, or legal action will follow.
According to a letter sent to Erin’s parents, the Buffalo Hanover Montrose School District did conduct an investigation into Erin’s release from the team, and found that there was no wrong-doing.
When Fox 9 reached out for comment, Superintendent Scott Thielman denied to comment on this particular case, but told us in an email that the “the district plans to vigorously defend against any claims in this particular matter.”