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Ex-Coaches Seek $18M in Discrimination Suit Damages

Three former coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth are seeking $18 million in damages in a lawsuit filed against The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota.

The most recent documents were filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the Duluth News Tribune reported. The filings stem from a lawsuit filed last September by former Minnesota Duluth head coaches Shannon Miller (women’s hockey) Jen Banford (softball) and Annette Wiles (women’s basketball). Monday’s hearing in the case likely will focus on scheduling a trial date, according to the newspaper.

Miller, Banford and Wiles claim in court documents their contracts were not renewed based on age, gender, sexual orientation and national origin discrimination. All three identify as gay, according to court documents. Banford and Miller are Canadian.

The former coaches also claim “discrimination by an educational institution receiving federal assistance, reprisal because of their reporting of that discrimination, creation of a hostile work environment, violation of federal and state equal pay statutes, and violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act,” according to court documents.

Miller is seeking $8 million in damages; Banford and Wiles are each seeking $5 million in damages.

“Because Defendant’s conduct has caused ongoing damages for each Plaintiff, it is not possible to provide an accurate itemization of damages at this time,” according to a filing from last Wednesday. “However, Plaintiffs’ have reasonably calculated their aggregate losses to be approximately $18,000,000.”

In a response also filed last week, the university denied all claims made by the former coaches.

“Plaintiffs’ allegation that they received unequal pay for equal work is meritless,” the university said in the filing. “Compensation for each employee depends on job performance, duties and responsibilities, and market conditions. An employee’s gender and sexual orientation were not considered in determining compensation.”

Furthermore, University of Minnesota Duluth spokesperson Lynne Williams told the newspaper the university continues to refute the discrimination claims and plans “to make our case aggressively through the legal process.”

Miller won five NCAA Division I national championships and took her teams to 11 Frozen Fours during her 16-year career. In addition to serving as the head softball coach, Banford also was the director of operations for the women’s hockey team. According to court documents, Miller and Banford’s contracts were not renewed in December 2014.

Wiles was the head women’s basketball coach from 2008 until she claims she was forced to resign last June, “due to the hostile and discriminatory environment created by the University,” according to the lawsuit.

Last November, the three former coaches and five current or former student-athletes at Minnesota Duluth filed a Title IX complaint against the university. From the News Tribune:

The complaint asks the federal Office for Civil Rights to investigate UMD on more than 50 gender discrimination allegations between women’s and men’s sports teams. The alleged disparities relate to funding for travel, meals, recruiting, scholarships and meals. Title IX is the federal law that bars schools that receive federal money from discriminating based on gender. The university has disputed those claims.

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