Shannon Miller, who sued the University of Minnesota Duluth after her contract as women's hockey coach was not renewed following the 2014-15 season, won a $3.74 million jury verdict Thursday.
Miller, who led the Bulldogs for 16 seasons, claimed under Title VII and Title IX that UMD had discriminated against her due to her gender and because she had complained about unequal gender treatment at the school. The jury took four hours of deliberation to reach its decision, with the award total taking into account loss of salary and emotional distress.
"When you get a verdict like that, you know that justice has taken the right course, and it’s a big day really for women, for women period, but especially for women in college athletics," said Miller after emerging from the courthouse, as reported by Fox21 KQDS in Duluth.
Miller, whose annual salary of more than $200,000 was the largest among women's hockey coaches in the country, was the third coach in NCAA history to reach 350 wins, ultimately posting a 383–144–50 record at UMD. Her teams made seven Frozen Four appearances and won five national championships, then missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament four years in a row. In the three years since Miller's departure, the Bulldogs have made one NCAA tournament appearance, losing in the first round, to go with two losing seasons.
UMD officials justified the decision not to renew Miller by citing the school's $6 million budget deficit and its flagging "return on investment" in Miller, as measured by cost per win.
"I will certainly take time to rethink the process and things we did, but I can tell you I stand firm on the decision that was made," UMD chancellor Lendley Black said. "I will also continue to take action to see that we further the growth of the climate at UMD so that everyone on campus feels respected and they feel welcome and they feel safe."
In addition, Black voiced support for athletic director Josh Berlo, who arrived at UMD in 2013 and received a two-year contract extension last year.
"I hope other athletic directors are watching and can learn from this, and I hope female coaches are watching and are ready to step up and fight for themselves a little harder than maybe they were before," said Miller, who along with two other former UMD coaches has a state discrimination lawsuit against the university pending.
In the meantime, Miller, whose resume also includes leading the Canadian national team to a gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championships in 1997 and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano a year later, has actively sought employment at the highest levels of her sport. "I would love to be the first female hockey coach in the NHL. I'll continue to follow that path," she said, adding, "I’ve applied for men's hockey jobs. There’s lots of men coaching in women's athletics, I absolutely see no reason why women can't coach in men's athletics."