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Experts testify on Shannon Miller's economic losses, job search

Shannon Miller reacts to the news that her contract is not being renewed in 2014. (News Tribune file photo)

One expert testified Tuesday that Shannon Miller suffered approximately $3 million in lost compensation and wages when the University of Minnesota Duluth decided to sever ties with her after 16 seasons as head women's hockey coach.

Another expert testified that Miller has put in less than one job application per month over the three years since her non-renewal, describing her employment-seeking efforts as "passive" and "inadequate."

The sixth day of testimony in Miller's federal discrimination lawsuit against UMD focused heavily on the impact of the December 2014 non-renewal and whether Miller is entitled to damages.

With Miller's attorneys resting their case Tuesday morning, each side had an opportunity to put economic experts on the witness stand.

Testimony is expected to wrap up Wednesday in U.S. District Court in a Duluth. Judge Patrick Schiltz told jurors they will hear closing arguments and final instructions before beginning deliberation Thursday morning.

But first, attorneys on either side sought to sway jurors on the topic of possible damages that could be awarded.

Arthur Cobb, a Twin Cities certified public accountant and management consultant, presented his findings on behalf of the plaintiff.

Citing a review of historical salaries, estimated future compensation if she had remained in the job until a normal retirement age, mitigation if she were to find another position and numerous other factors, he put a number on it: $2.66 to $3.26 million.

Cobb testified about the state of athletic department finances at the time, citing $1.33 million in fundraising for the fiscal year of 2014-15 — a 300 percent increase over four years earlier.

He also cited his own analysis showing that men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin was paid nearly $2,200 more per win than Miller was during the four-year span at the end of her career.

"The information indicated to me that had UMD wished to retain Shannon Miller, the funds would have been available," Cobb testified.

University attorney Tim Pramas contested Cobb's findings. He pointed to Miller's salary making up one-seventh of the entire women's hockey budget.

Pramas also cited Miller's comments to Chancellor Lendley Black and athletic director Josh Berlo that she only wanted a two-year extension before moving on from the women's hockey job. He said that extension would have only amounted to about $430,000 in salary and benefits.

Later in the day, UMD called two of its own experts to dispute Cobb's findings.

David Jones, a forensic economist, testified that Miller had won 49 percent of games against her top rivals of Minnesota and Wisconsin through 2010, the year she won her final national championship and received an extension through 2015.

In her final four seasons, Jones testified, Miller won just 29 percent of those games — while bringing in the highest salary of any women's hockey coach in the country.

Jones also conducted an analysis of Sandelin and some of his counterparts in men's hockey, reporting a lower salary than rivals in Minnesota, North Dakota, Western Michigan and Miami of Ohio.

"Coach Sandelin's salary was about $600 higher than (Miller's)," Jones testified, "but hers was way above average for the women, while his was way below average for the men."

On cross-examination, Miller attorney Dan Siegel took issue with the so-called "Moneyball" analysis devised by Berlo to assess Miller's contract situation.

"Have you ever before been faced with a situation where a coach was being evaluated on pay-per-win?" Siegel asked.

"No," responded Jones, who has testified in over 1,000 cases. "It's the first time I've seen it."

Jan Lowe, a vocational expert who also was retained by the defense, testified that Miller only applied for three of 10 job openings in Division I women's hockey since her non-renewal.

Lowe said there have been numerous other openings for athletic directors, assistant coaches and other related positions Miller has not sought. She said Miller has qualifications and could obtain work in the sports industry, but "has not conducted an active job search."

"If you don't apply for work," she testified, "you're not going to get hired."

In other testimony, now-retired UMD human resources administrator Linda Kinnear addressed an email she sent to Berlo in December 2014 to "raise a red flag" about a potential discrimination claim after an assistant athletic director asked her for information on five women in the athletic department.

The women were women's basketball coach Annette Wiles and four employees in the women's hockey program: assistant coaches Laura Shuler and Gina Kingsbury, part-time director of operations Jen Banford and equipment manager and strength and conditioning coach Julianne Vasichek.

Kinnear testified that she contacted Berlo only because she wanted him to be aware that she received the inquiry and ask if there was an issue.

While Miller's attorneys have pointed to an alleged "purge of women" by Berlo, UMD maintains that Vasichek was inadvertently included in that group, and Wiles was included because there were issues that had been raised in recent months.

Siegel posited that Berlo decided not to move forward with the non-renewals of Vasichek and Wiles only after receiving Kinner's email. Kinnear denied the claim of sex discrimination, saying she would have reached out to higher authorities if she believed that to be the case.

"I wrote that because I had received inquiries on five females," she testified. "I did not know all the other information. I was just letting Josh know and asking if there were other issues."

Tricia Bunten, chief development officer at UMD, responded to earlier testimony about an anonymous donor who made an inquiry about paying for Miller's salary. Bunten said the university could have accepted a donation for a general coaching staff fund, but not to benefit Miller specifically.

"It would be similar to someone wanting to establish a scholarship that would go to a particular student," she testified. "The IRS restricts these types of gifts so that they cannot benefit a specific person."

On cross-examination, defense attorneys cited a major athletics donor who wrote that his $45,000 contribution in the spring of 2015 was "only good if the administration remains firm in the firing of Shannon Miller." Bunten denied that it amounted to a "quid quo pro," as Miller's non-renewal had already occured.

Jurors also heard testimony from former athletic director Bob Nielson through the reading of a deposition transcript.

Nielson testified that Miller had complained about the lack of a full-time director of operations, adding that he was looking at ways to increase Banford's position to remedy her concerns.

He testified that he believed the men's and women's teams were on the "same level" when it came to facilities and equipment. He also acknowledged that the women's hockey landscape had become more challenging during Miller's tenure, with competitors putting more resources into their programs and it becoming more difficult to win national championships.

Testimony is expected to conclude by late morning or early afternoon Wednesday.