Three former women’s coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth sued the state’s university system in federal court today, all saying they were victims of discrimination while working for the university. In the lawsuit, each woman outlines her own story and the various ways in which she was harassed, excluded, and sometimes the last to know what was the future of her own job at the university. Here they are, as described in the court filing.
Shannon Miller, women’s hockey coach from 1998 to 2014:
Miller describes in the lawsuit how she was called into a meeting with intercollegiate athletic director Josh Berlo and chancellor Lendley C. Black on Dec. 9 of last year, and told that her contract as well as all the contracts for her staff wouldn’t be renewed. The decision, she was told, was “strictly financial.” She wasn’t offered the chance to take a pay cut, which she had done in the past. From the suit:
Relating to the University’s most recent alleged financial concerns, Miller was willing and ready to take a pay cut, but was never approached or asked to take a pay cut before the December 9 meeting.
Prior to the December 9 meeting, Miller was not provided with any indication that her contract would not be renewed, for financial reasons or otherwise. In fact, as recently as July of 2014, both Berlo and Black had told Miller that they would continue to discuss the renewal of her coaching contract and that the lines of communication would be kept open.
Miller points out that these financial concerns didn’t impact the pay of her male colleagues. The men’s hockey coach, according to the lawsuit, “earns a base salary of at least $300,241, which is at least $93,241 more per year than Miller was paid.”
Miller gives other examples of discrimination in the lawsuit: Inaction by the HR department regarding a male co-worker who called her a “dyke”; the time Miller and another coach, Jen Banford, were intentionally excluded from an athletics department and community golf tournament; and what she says she overheard the athletic director say about Canadians.
During her tenure as the head women’s hockey coach, Miller regularly experienced hostility toward Canadians by University officials. For example, Athletic Director Berlo frequently remarked that “there are too many Canadians around here.”
Jen Banford, softball coach and director of operations for women’s hockey from 2005 to 2014:
Banford’s part of the lawsuit hinges on the conflicting messages she got about her future at the same time as Miller says she was told she had to go. The former softball coach says she got an email from assistant athletic director Jay Finnerty with a letter attached from Berlo telling her that her contracts as head softball coach and part-time director of women’s hockey operations wouldn’t be renewed. Later during a women’s hockey budget meeting, it was mentioned that she would be kept but only as the softball coach and at a lower salary—her contract would be renewed at $28,000 instead of $38,000. Finnerty interrupted, saying “[w]e didn’t invite her, we have yet to present her with a renewal letter,” according to the suit.
Banford later read a quote from Berlo in ESPNw saying that Banford “is our softball coach.”
These statements were false and directly contradicted Berlo’s December 11 letter to Banford, which plainly stated that Banford’s “appointment as the Director of Hockey Operations/Head Softball Coach 38154, 12 months (A), Annual Renewal Appointment, 100% will end on June 14, 2015.” On information and belief, the University reversed course and decided to attempt to retain Banford after negative publicity arising from Shannon Miller’s non-renewal.
As of the date of Berlo’s statement to ESPNw, Banford had not spoken with Berlo in six weeks, and had not been presented with any offer for a renewal of her coaching contract.
Banford also recounts in the lawsuit that she heard Berlo say “I’ve never seen so many damn Canadians,” or “there are too many Canadians around here.”
Annette Wiles, women’s basketball coach from 2008 to 2015:
Wiles says in the lawsuit that the discrimination she faced began after she was the keynote speaker for the LGBT National Coming Out Day luncheon in October 2013 on Minnesota Duluth’s campus. At the event, Wiles planned to come out publicly as a lesbian. Wiles invited Berlo to come but he said he would be out of town that day. The day of the event, Wiles saw Berlo in his office, sitting at his desk. Again, she asked him to come. He said was “not available for that event,” according to the lawsuit.
A few days after that event, Wiles was in the Athletic Department workroom along with Berlo. At that time, Berlo asked Wiles, “Did you give it a lot of thought before you decided to speak?” Wiles understood Berlo’s remark to mean he was questioning Wiles’ wisdom in deciding to speak at the luncheon because it would negatively affect her career.
Afterward, Wiles said she was purposely excluded from department meetings and had a “a non-approved and invalid survey” of her players used to impact her 2014 merit raise, which was 1 percent. Wiles adds that the women’s basketball budget kept getting smaller, but somehow the men’s did not:
Berlo has established a practice of finding “anonymous donors” for the needs of the men’s sports programs and favored male coaches. However, since the fall of 2013, no anonymous donors were found to assist with the expenses for the women’s basketball program, despite the repeated slashing of the women’s basketball budget.
Wiles said in the lawsuit that she was “was forced to resign on June 1, 2015 due to the hostile and discriminatory environment created by the University.”
According to the Star Tribune, Black released a statement today saying the university had handled these issues. “We continue to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit,” the statement read.
The lawsuit accuses the university of various counts of illegal discrimination, creating a hostile work environment, and unlawful retaliation. The full lawsuit is below.