A former track coach for the University of Minnesota Duluth who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct last year is now suing the college, alleging a group of athletes conspired to oust her.
Joanna Warmington also accused the college of conducting a shoddy internal investigation using incomplete witness statements that violated her right to due process.
Warmington resigned from her position as women's cross-country and track and field coach in August 2018, after the school confronted her with the results of an internal investigation. The report found Warmington made some student athletes uncomfortable with unwelcome sexual comments. Several witnesses interviewed in the investigation said they saw nude pictures of Warmington while accessing her iPad, which she used to take track-related pictures. Some said Warmington sent them photos of her in a bikini or running bra.
In her resignation letter, Warmington said the college mishandled her case, defamed her and failed to comply with Title IX protections.
Warmington's lawsuit expands on those allegations, saying college officials targeted her for being a "voice of equality" and were looking for a way to fire her before completing the investigation. Responding to the running bra accusation, Warmington says it's normal for female athletes to train in such attire, and male coaches and athletes frequently train shirtless without being accused of creating a sexual atmosphere. Her male coach counterparts at UMD have done much worse, the lawsuit alleges, including commenting inappropriately about women's bodies, without being investigated for harassment.
According to the lawsuit, students were later unable to find the nude photos on Warmington's iPad when given access during the investigation.
Warmington, who coached at UMD for nine years, alleges she was never given the chance to defend herself against the accusations. She said the investigators failed to get 15 of the 32 witnesses interviewed to sign their statements, calling into question the legitimacy of the accusations. "It is unclear whether the witnesses simply did not care about the content or conclusion in their statements, or whether they too felt the witness statements did not accurately represent the information they provided to the investigator and refused to sign them," the suit states.
Lynne Williams, a spokeswoman for UMD, issued the following statement: "Ms. Warmington initially filed her claims with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and cross-filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. On September 6, 2019 the EEOC dismissed her claims and determined that based upon the information it obtained, it was unable to find any legal violations. Three days later the MDHR adopted the EEOC's disposition of her claims and the MDHR likewise dismissed her charges. We believe her court actions will also be unsuccessful."
In June, former track member Paige du Bois also sued the Duluth college, alleging the school retaliated against her for supporting Warmington.
Earlier this month, UMD and its former women's hockey coach reached a settlement in a long-running discrimination lawsuit. Shannon Miller and the former women's basketball coach and former softball coach at UMD sued the university in federal court in 2015 alleging gender and sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation. Miller's was the only lawsuit that proceeded after a judge dismissed the other claims. She won that lawsuit after a nine-day jury trial, and she recently accepted a reduced award of $1.9 million in noneconomic damages and pay and benefits and an additional $2.4 million for legal fees and expenses.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036