Former coaches file lawsuit saying they were fired for being gay and female

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three former University of Minnesota Duluth coaches, including women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university Sept. 28, saying they lost their jobs because they’re female and gay.

Miller led the Bulldogs to five NCAA national championships, but UMD officials cited a budget deficit when they told her last December that they would not renew her contract. The others plaintiffs include former women’s softball coach Jen Banford, who was also director of operations for UMD women’s hockey under Miller, and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles.

Miller and Banford allege in the lawsuit filed in federal court that the university did not renew their contracts because they’re female, gay and Canadian. Wiles alleges she was forced out in June because of her gender and sexual orientation. Miller and Wiles also allege age discrimination.

The lawsuit also accuses the university of unlawfully retaliating against the women for reporting that other school employees harassed them because they were lesbians, and of creating a hostile work environment that made it difficult to do their jobs. It also says the women were paid less and had smaller budgets than their male counterparts on the men’s hockey, baseball and basketball teams.

Miller said at a Sept. 28 news conference that the lawsuit is not just about three former coaches, the Star Tribune reported.

“Sexism and homophobia are alive and well at the University of Minnesota,” she said.

UMD Chancellor Lendley Black issued a statement last week, before the lawsuit was filed, disputing the plaintiffs’ broad claims of discrimination. In a new statement Sept. 28, Black said the school is prepared to handle the lawsuit through the legal process.

“Throughout the process, the issues brought to our attention were handled professionally and appropriately. We continue to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit,” Black said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified back pay and compensatory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.

Miller was UMD’s first head women’s hockey coach. During her 16 years with the program, she also helped lead it to 11 Frozen Four tournaments. According to the complaint, she has the fourth most wins among active Division I women’s hockey coaches. But she was told at a meeting with athletic director John Berlo and Black on Dec. 9 that her contract and those of her staff would not be renewed.

They told her the decision was “strictly financial” and that the university simply couldn’t afford her salary, the lawsuit says. Miller had accepted pay cuts previously to help the school and was willing to take another but was never given that opportunity before the meeting, it says.

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