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Former UMD coaches Miller, Banford, Wiles expected to announce lawsuit next week

Shannon Miller, then the head coach of the Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team reacts to the news that her contract is not being renewed after this season while speaking to the media at Amsoil Arena in Duluth last December. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Former University of Minnesota Duluth coaches Shannon Miller, Jen Banford and Annette Wiles will hold a news conference Monday to make an announcement concerning their claims of discrimination while at UMD.

The afternoon news conference will be held in Eden Prairie, Minn., at the law firm of Fafinski Mark & Johnson, and it is expected the three coaches who left UMD in 2015 will announce the filing of a lawsuit in federal court. According to attorney Dan Siegel of Siegel & Lee in Oakland, Calif., who is representing Miller, Banford and Wiles, all three received their Notice-of-Right-to-Sue letters from the U.S. Department of Justice, allowing them to proceed. The letters were forwarded to the DOJ by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights because the claims were made against a public entity — the University of Minnesota.

Reached by phone Monday in Oakland, Siegel declined to comment further on specifics concerning the case involving Miller, Banford and Wiles until Monday’s news conference. Miller also declined comment when reached by phone Monday.

Lynne Williams, UMD’s director of marketing and public relations, responded via email.

“We are aware that there is a press conference on Monday and are not in a position to comment about what the individuals or their lawyers will discuss there,” she said. “We have fully cooperated with an internal review of the complaints raised, and dispute the broad claims of discrimination.”

In the same email, UMD released a statement from Chancellor Lendley Black: "We are committed to fostering a campus climate that is welcoming to all individuals. I support the leadership, direction, and positive momentum of UMD Bulldog athletics."

Miller, who coached the Bulldogs women’s hockey program to five NCAA national championships in her 16 years as head coach, has publicly accused the university of discrimination based on her gender and sexual orientation. She also has accused the university of Title IX violations. That all came after she was informed in December her contract would not be renewed at the end of the 2014-15 season due to financial considerations.

“Discrimination rears its ugly head in many forms,” Miller said in an interview with the News Tribune in February. “And I feel I have been discriminated against because I’m a woman. I feel I have been discriminated against because I’m gay.”

Banford, who was the head women’s softball coach, was informed at the same time as the rest of Miller’s hockey staff that she would not be brought back as the team’s director of hockey operations. She later rejected a one-year contract offer from UMD to remain as softball coach after leading the Bulldogs to four NCAA tournament berths and a conference title in her 10 seasons.

“With the direction that UMD has taken since December, there was no way that I felt … I thought it was impossible for me to take the offer that they gave,” Banford told the News Tribune in February.

Wiles announced her resignation on June 1 as head women’s basketball coach after seven seasons with the Bulldogs. She cited an unhealthy work environment at the university as the reason for her departure.

In addition to Siegel, Miller, Banford and Wiles are being represented by Anne Butterfield Weills of Siegel & Lee in Oakland, Calif., as well as by Donald Chance Mark, Jr. of Fafinski Mark & Johnson. Mark replaces Justi Rae Miller on the legal team after Miller left Minnesota to take an in-house counsel position with State Farm.

Siegel and Weills are both prominent civil rights attorneys. In 2007 and 2008, Siegel won a combined $29 million in four cases involving three female Fresno (Calif.) State University coaches and a female associate athletic director. Two of the four cases involved coaches who were fired, in part, because they advocated for gender equality and equal treatment of female coaches and athletes. They were two of the largest Title IX judgments — $19.1 million and $5.85 million — ever handed down.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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