Shannon Miller, former women’s hockey coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was the target of discrimination and retaliation by her former employer, a federal jury ruled Thursday.
After a nine-day trial in Duluth in which jurors heard from 23 witnesses, Miller was awarded $744,832 in lost wages and benefits, and $3 million for emotional distress.
“I knew it was the right thing to do,” Miller said Thursday evening about the lawsuit, which she filed in 2015, a year after UMD declined to renew her contract. “It’s a really big moment for myself, but also for women, specifically women in college athletics. And also for LGBT people — be authentic for who you are and fight discrimination despite the risks. I hope it reverberates across the country.”
In a statement Thursday night, Lynne Williams, director of marketing and public relations at UMD, said, “The university respects the judicial process, but we are very disappointed and surprised by the jury’s decision. We strongly feel that there was no discrimination in our decision to not extend her contract, but the decision was based on a variety of factors, including things like the financial considerations.”
In December 2014, Miller was summoned to a meeting with UMD Chancellor Lendley Black and Intercollegiate Athletic Director Josh Berlo, who asked her to resign or retire. When she refused, Berlo declined to renew her contract and said publicly that it was a “financially driven decision,” though Miller was never asked to take a pay cut and was paid $93,241 less than men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin, according to the lawsuit.
In September 2015, Miller and two other women sued the U’s Board of Regents, alleging discrimination on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation and national origin.
Early this year, a federal judge dismissed discrimination claims by the other women. Miller said Thursday that they have resubmitted those claims in district court.
In closing statements, UMD’s attorney emphasized a decline in the women’s hockey team’s performance as having contributed to the nonrenewal of Miller’s contract, while Miller’s attorney highlighted UMD’s shifting public explanation for the nonrenewal of her contract.
The lawsuit stressed Miller’s accomplishments, including winning five national championships and 11 Frozen Four tournament appearances. It also said she was the “most successful women’s hockey coach in NCAA history.”
The suit also noted that the women’s hockey program received substantially fewer resources than the men’s team.
Miller now lives in Las Vegas and is currently job hunting.
“I’ve been discriminated against my whole life as a woman, and certainly as an openly gay woman,” she said Thursday night. “And I’ve watched so many women be discriminated against in many walks of life ... completely understanding that I would be fighting for many, many women, and I also understood the magnitude of the fight that I would be taking on a giant.”