Former athlete's suit against UMD dismissed
Judge rejects allegations made by Paige Du Bois, who defended former track coach Joanne Warmington
A former University of Minnesota Duluth athlete isn’t giving up after her lawsuit against the school was dismissed by a federal judge.
“She’s got great respect for the court’s decision,” said Beau D. McGraw, the lawyer for Paige Du Bois, on Monday. “But she intends to pursue all of her legal options going forward so her rights can finally be fully vindicated.”
Du Bois, now a student athlete at Northern Michigan University, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last June alleging that UMD’s athletic administration retaliated against her because of her support for her former coach, Joanna Warmington. The latter resigned under pressure in August 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Du Bois’ lawsuit complained that UMD retaliated against her by refusing permission to “redshirt,” meaning sitting out a season and preserving a year of athletic eligibility. She also alleged discrimination under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions.
U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz, in a ruling on Friday, Feb. 14, granted the university’s motion to dismiss the redshirting complaint with prejudice, meaning it is permanently dismissed. He granted dismissal of the two discrimination complaints without prejudice, meaning they still could be filed again.
The legal action technically had been filed against the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, the governing body for UMD.
UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams had no immediate comment other than to cite the judge’s decision.
The conflict between Du Bois and UMD began in March 2018, when Warmington, who had recruited her, suddenly went on leave. Du Bois and her teammates weren’t told why, according to Schiltz’s summary. They carried on without a coach.
About a week later, Du Bois learned that Warmington was being investigated on allegations she had committed sexual harassment. Athletic Director Josh Berlo told team members they could talk to the investigators if they chose, and later told Du Bois she could provide information favorable to Warmington if she wanted to. Du Bois did so, and encouraged her teammates to follow suit.
Throughout the summer, Du Bois met with UMD Athletic Department staff on at least nine occasions and reportedly was assured that Warmington’s return was a matter of “if” not “when,” Schiltz wrote.
Du Bois, who had completed her second academic year at UMD, was entrusted to tasks that normally would be performed by a head coach, such as collecting jerseys and equipment from graduating team members, assigning lockers and even contacting recruits.
On Aug. 20, 2018, the first day of training camp, Berlo informed the team that Warmington had resigned, said the resignation came as a surprise and said the team would be operating without a coach for the time being.
Du Bois confronted Berlo in front of the team, saying he could not have been surprised by the resignation because he had demanded it. She asked Berlo why he was lying.
Soon after, Du Bois asked about redshirting, but Assistant Athletic Director Abby Strong said it was not for “someone like her,” according to Du Bois’ account.
As she considered transferring, Du Bois was told on Sept. 4 that she must clear out her locker and stay away from the team. She transferred to Northern Michigan four days later.
She later filed the lawsuit, represented by McGraw, whose McGraw Law Firm in Lake Elmo, Minn., now also is representing Warmington in a lawsuit against UMD.
In dismissing the complaints, Schiltz wrote that Title IX did not apply in this instance.
“The problem for Du Bois is that she never reported, complained about or in any other way opposed sex discrimination,” Schiltz wrote. “To the contrary, Du Bois defended Warmington — a coach who had been accused of sex discrimination.”
Schiltz also found that the retaliation claim was “implausible.” The athletic department treated her favorably after she spoke out in favor of Warmington in April, he wrote. “What is plausible is that UMD took action against Du Bois in August because in August she fell out with the athletic department over Warmington’s forced resignation and embarrassed the athletic director by accusing him of lying in front of the entire women’s cross-country team.”
Du Bois was disappointed by the ruling, McGraw said in a telephone interview on Monday.
“However, she understood that bringing a federal lawsuit against the second-largest university in the state of Minnesota, that it was going to be met with challenges,” he said. “The laws favor these universities and don’t support the rights of students.”
McGraw didn’t state specifically what next steps Du Bois would take.