A former University of Minnesota Duluth women's cross-country and track and field coach who resigned in 2018 filed a pair of unlawful termination lawsuits this week against the university in state and federal court.
In her lawsuits, Joanna Warmington, 47, alleges sex and gender discrimination, wrongful termination, creation of a hostile work environment, unequal pay and more. Forced to "go along and get along" for 10 years, Warmington alleges that university officials were fighting for their lives when they pressured her to resign, knowing she would be a "tireless" advocate for equal treatment and funding of women's athletics.
"These lawsuits finally allow my voice to be heard, and for me to publicly reveal how the university misused its institutional power against me," Warmington said in a news release issued by her attorneys at McGraw Law Firm in Lake Elmo, Minn. "(R)ather than take the necessary steps to address inequity, it was easier to replace me with someone who would remain quiet for fear of losing their job."
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents is listed as the defendant in both lawsuits. Warmington is seeking damages including back and front pay, legal fees and undisclosed damages for emotional distress in the twin lawsuits.
UMD said Warmington's claims have been heard — and dismissed — before, by the U.S. Equal Opportunity and Employment Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Based on information also used in the lawsuits, neither agency found legal violations, UMD said.
"We believe her court actions will also be unsuccessful," UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams told the News Tribune. "The well-being of our student-athletes has been our paramount concern and we are disappointed that she has made negative public comments about individuals involved who were looking out for the students' well-being."
Warmington's lawsuits come on the heels of a June federal lawsuit filed against UMD by student-athlete Paige De Bois. De Bois alleged retaliation and discrimination for supporting Warmington and questioning UMD administration throughout the 2018 saga. She's also seeking undisclosed damages for emotional distress.
Warmington's lawsuits level a series of claims against UMD, including defamation based on details made public following UMD's internal investigation into Warmington.
Through its Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, UMD "found that Ms. Warmington engaged in sexual harassment in violation of University policy," a 2018 summary report of the investigation said. The EOAA concluded in its summary that "Ms. Warmington's conduct was unwelcome because it was unsolicited, made multiple student-athletes feel uncomfortable, and taken together, created an unwelcome sexualized environment in which some student-athletes felt compelled to tolerate unwanted conduct of a sexual nature in order to maintain a positive relationship with their coach."
In her lawsuits, Warmington challenged those claims, blaming "systemic failures within" the EOAA office and claiming she was not allowed due process to address the claims made against her.
Instead, Warmington alleges UMD waited for the March 2018 conclusion to the highly publicized Shannon Miller trial — a discrimination trial won by the former UMD women's hockey coach — before turning to act against Warmington.
"The obvious timing of my dismissal should surprise no one — UMD had to wait for the conclusion of the Shannon Miller trial before they could act against me," Warmington said in the news release.
Warmington claims athletic administration threatened to "publicly disclose salacious — and patently false" details if she did not agree to resign.
At the time of her resignation, Warmington was on a leave of absence. She did not resign quietly, alleging UMD committed NCAA and Title IX violations on her way out after eight seasons as a head coach.
In her lawsuits, Warmington blamed "disgruntled" student-athletes for initiating complaints against her, and said the student-athletes and others were responsible for creating a sexualized environment.
"I dealt with sexual innuendo and harassment from fellow staff members and administrative staff on a daily basis," she said in the news release.