UMD responds to $18M lawsuit, denies discriminating against female coaches

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The University of Minnesota has rejected claims that two coaches in Duluth lost their jobs because of discrimination, saying the decisions were performance-related.

UMD women's hockey coach Shannon Miller and director of hockey operations Jen Banford filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university in September, claiming their contracts were not renewed based on their gender, age, nationality (they're both Canadian) and sexual orientation.

Ex-basketball coach Annette Wiles meanwhile left of her own volition, but claimed UMD also discriminated against her and "created a hostile work environment due to her sexual orientation and gender," KBJR reports.

MPR reports the university responded to these claims via an 11-page statement filed in district court this week, denying discriminating or retaliating against the coaches.

The Board of Regents noted that Miller – who took the Bulldogs to 5 NCAA championships during her 16-year tenure – had the worst four years of her career in the "four seasons prior to the non-renewal of her contract," MPR notes.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the trio are seeking $18 million in damages, $8 million for Miller and $5 million each for Banford and Wiles.

The newspaper notes the university has countered the women's claims they were let go partly because they are gay by pointing out that Miller's replacement also identifies as gay.

The claim that age (all three coaches are over 40) played a role has also been refuted – noting that Banford's replacement is older than her. It also appointed a woman to replace Wiles, contrary to the claims the decisions were based on gender.

It's been previously reported that Banford was offered a one-year contract to stay on as UMD's softball coach, which she rejected.

When announcing Miller and Banford's departure in December 2014, UMD said "financial considerations" were behind the decision, with Miller's base salary of $207,000 making her at the time the highest-paid women's hockey coach in the nation. The Star Tribune noted however this was significantly less than men's coach Scott Sandelin.

The Duluth News Tribune has more details on the lawsuit here.

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