3 ex-UMD coaches file discrimination lawsuit

Three former University of Minnesota Duluth coaches held a news conference at the law firm of Fafinski Mark & Johnson in Eden Prairie to announce the filing of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the U of M Board of Regents on seven counts of discrimination.

Shannon Miller, Jen Banford and Annette Wiles filed a joint lawsuit alleging gender, sexual orientation, national origin and age discrimination. The lawsuit says they are all openly gay, and cited that as a reason for the demise of their coaching careers at the university.

The coaches are being represented by Dan Siegel of Siegel & Lee in Oakland, Calif., Anne Butterfield Weills of Siegel & Lee and Donald Chance Mark, Jr. of Fafinski Mark & Johnson. They are seeking financial compensation for the coaches, including future pay, back pay and damages for pain and suffering. 

In an email, UMD's director of marketing and public relations released a statement from Chancellor Lendley Black last week:

"We are committed to fostering a campus climate that is welcoming to all individuals. I support the leadership, direction, and positive momentum of UMD Bulldog athletics."

The email also contained the following statement:

"We are aware that there is a press conference on Monday and are not in a position to comment about what the individuals or their lawyers will discuss there. We have fully cooperated with an internal review of the complaints raised, and dispute the broad claims of discrimination."

Miller served as head coach of the Bulldog women's hockey team for 16 years, and helped lead them to five NCAA national championships. In December, she was told her contract wouldn't be renewed, citing a $4.5 million budget deficit. Her $215,000 salary made her the highest-paid coach in women's hockey.

Banford was director of hockey operations under Miller and also the head women's softball coach. She told at the same time as the rest of Miller's staff that she wouldn't be brought back. She was offered a contract from the university to remain head softball coach for a lower salary, the lawsuit says. She declined.

Head women's basketball coach Wiles resigned in June after seven seasons, citing an unhealthy work environment.

Siegel has won two of the largest Title IX judgments ever handed down involving coaches who were fired in part for advocating for equal treatment of female coaches and athletes.