Three former women's sports coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to revive a state lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
A petition for further review was filed Thursday by former women's hockey coach Shannon Miller, former women's basketball coach Annette Wiles and former softball coach and women's hockey operations director Jen Banford.
Their case claimed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, creation of a hostile work environment and reprisal under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, as well as violations of the Equal Pay for Equal Work Law and the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.
UMD notified Miller in December 2014 that her contract would not be renewed after 16 seasons, including five national championships. Banford and Wiles resigned their positions in the following months.
A federal judge suggested the sexual orientation claims were the "strongest" elements of the women's case, but dismissed those counts from an earlier lawsuit due to a lack of jurisdiction. Attorneys then filed the claims to state court in March 2018, the same day Miller prevailed in federal court on claims of sex discrimination and Title IX retaliation.
But Judge Daniel Moreno dismissed the state case last October, finding that the discrimination and equal-play claims were filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations. The judge also said the whistleblower claims were not "factually distinct" from the discrimination allegations.
A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal last month.
"Not only was there no factor completely outside the coaches' control which prevented them from meeting the state-court statutory deadlines, (but) Supreme Court precedent indicated that, when the university raised its immunity defense in its answer, the coaches needed to bring their state-law claims before the expiration of the limitations period," Judge Renee Worke wrote in the court's opinion.
Review by the Supreme Court is not automatic. UMD has 20 days to file a response to the petition and the court has 60 days to decide whether to accept the case.
The high court accepts review in approximately 10-12% of the roughly 700 petitions it receives from Court of Appeals cases each year, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
Earlier this week, Miller accepted a reduced verdict of $1.96 million in the federal case. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz also ordered the university to pay more than $2.53 million in attorneys' fees, expenses and interest, bringing its total liability to nearly $4.5 million.
Any appeals in the federal case must be filed by Oct. 30.