DULUTH – A state appeals court shot down a discrimination lawsuit from three former coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth on Tuesday, though it does not affect the $4.2 million a federal court previously awarded to former women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller that is also under appeal.
Miller, former softball coach Jen Banford and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles launched a state lawsuit against the university in March 2018 for alleged gender and sexual orientation discrimination at UMD.
Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Renee L. Worke, writing for a three-judge panel, agreed with a lower state court ruling that the case cannot move forward based on time limits.
Tim Pramas, University of Minnesota senior associate general counsel, said in a statement he was “pleased” with the decision.
“We believed from the outset that the plaintiffs’ claims in state court lacked merit and we are happy that a unanimous decision from the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all of those claims.”
The saga stretches back to December 2014, when Miller and Banford were told their contracts would not be renewed, though the university later offered Banford a contract she rejected, according to court records. Wiles said she was forced to resign in June 2015 “due to a hostile work environment,” according to the suit. They filed a complaint in federal court in September 2015 that included allegations of discrimination under Minnesota laws as well as violations of the state’s equal pay law and the state whistleblower law.
Eventually, only Miller’s claims of discrimination and retaliation were allowed to go forward, in February 2018. The next month, a federal jury awarded Miller $3.7 million, and a judge would later add an additional $460,000.
The university has appealed.
The remaining claims were filed in a Minnesota district court in March 2018, and settlement talks were unsuccessful throughout that summer, according to court filings.
In October 2018, Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Moreno ruled that the complaints were “untimely” due to statutes of limitation and found that, constitutionally, some of the claims could not be tried in both state and federal court. He dismissed the case without prejudice, writing that the three “could have brought all their claims — state and federal — in the state courts of Minnesota.”
Lawyers for the former coaches could not be reached.
Brooks Johnson • 612-673-4229