DULUTH – The University of Minnesota Duluth and its former women’s hockey coach have reached a $4.5 million settlement, concluding another chapter of a long-running discrimination lawsuit.
Shannon Miller, who sued her former employer more than four years ago alleging discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, will receive $2.1 million, and her attorneys will get $2.4 million, court documents say.
“It’s a good feeling to have this put to rest,” Miller said, “but the best feeling ever was March of 2018 when the jury read the verdict. Because that’s when we won.”
“My players are watching, and they’re learning from me,” she said. “I, within seconds, thought about them and how important it would be for me to stand up for myself.”
Miller and two other former UMD coaches — softball coach Jen Banford and women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles — initially filed suit against the university in federal court in 2015, a year after UMD declined to renew Miller’s contract after 16 seasons and five national titles.
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Most of these claims were dismissed in 2018 by a U.S. district judge, who wrote that their strongest claims did not fall under federal court jurisdiction. Only Miller’s allegations of gender bias were allowed to go to trial, which concluded with a jury verdict in her favor later that year.
The settlement replaces the award Miller won from that ruling. It also precludes her from appealing her case at the federal level, like Banford and Wiles, who are fighting the dismissal of their federal claims in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
That litigation is on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a similar case that could set a precedent on whether sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A decision is expected by June.
In a statement about the settlement with Miller, UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams said the university “welcomes the conclusion of this matter.”
“We look forward to continuing support of our students in and out of the classroom, including their athletics endeavors,” she said.
The coaches also sued UMD in state court in 2018, but the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal to hear their case this month. A Hennepin County district judge had previously ruled that their complaints were untimely due to statutes of limitation, and a state appeals court affirmed the decision.
Miller’s attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling could have implications for the state-level litigation. For now, the case is at a standstill.
He said he hopes the settlement will help Miller find a coaching job. “There have been college jobs open. And for the most part, she hasn’t even been able to get an interview,” Mark said. “I’m hoping that with the resolution of this case, people are going to start to again consider her.”