Former coaches, athletes file Title IX complaint against UMD

Former University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey coach Shannon Miller -- along with two other former coaches and five current or former student-athletes -- filed a Title IX complaint this week against UMD.

At the law offices of Fafinski Mark & Johnson in the Twin Cities in September, former UMD women basketball coach Annette Wiles, softball coach Jen Banford, and hockey coach Shannon Miller announce are bringing suit against the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota. They are joined by lawyers Dan Siegel (left) and Donald Mark Jr. (right). (Richard Tsong-Taatarii / Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Former University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller - along with two other former coaches and five current or former student-athletes - filed a Title IX complaint this week against UMD.

Filed with the federal Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, the complaint outlines more than 50 allegations of gender discrimination and asks for an investigation. The allegations include disparities in funding for travel, meals, recruiting, equipment and scholarships between men’s and women’s teams.

“The claim is that UMD is in many ways denying equal athletic opportunities to female students when compared to males,” said Dan Siegel, an attorney who represents Miller, former softball coach Jennifer Banford and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles.

Siegel said the departure of several female coaches from UMD in the past year is only a small part of the Title IX claim. The complaint is a result of a process that began last spring, he said.

The complaint alleges that the “disparities in benefits and services are numerous, systemic and affect all female athletes at UMD.”


It asks that the Office for Civil Rights launch an investigation into whether UMD is providing equal opportunities and benefits for female athletes, and take steps to remedy any “unlawful conduct” that may be found.

Lynne Williams, director of university marketing and public relations at UMD, said university officials haven’t had time to fully review the specific allegations in the complaint after receiving the it Wednesday, but said UMD denies the allegations.  

“We continue to refute the claims of discrimination and … we will fully comply with any investigations if they were to happen,” Williams said.

In addition to Miller, Banford and Wiles, the Title IX complaint was also filed by one current UMD student-athlete - senior softball player Ashley Lewis - and by four former UMD student-athletes: women’s hockey players Madison Kolls, Tea Villila and Jenna McParland, and track and field runner Tatum Garity. Villila and McParland played four years for Miller from 2011-2015 while Kolls was with UMD for just one season in 2013-14. Garrity ran track and field at UMD from 2010-2015.

Title IX is the federal law that bars schools that receive federal money from discriminating based on gender.

Claims of disparities

The claims of Title IX violations made in the complaint are wide-ranging and focus primarily on the hockey, basketball and softball/baseball programs.


Among the several dozen allegations made in the complaint:

  • UMD used the number of female students who tried out for softball - rather than the actual team roster after cuts - in its gender equity statistics. The softball program was allowed to have only 15 to 18 players on its roster, compared to 36 or more on the baseball team.
  • UMD men’s hockey players were provided scholarships for classes in the May session (between spring semester and summer session), but women’s players were not.
  • The UMD men’s basketball team was given money for a 28-game season, but the women were funded only for 26 games.
  • The UMD men’s basketball locker room is five times larger than the women’s basketball locker room. “When the women’s basketball coach pointed out this discrepancy to the UMD athletic department as a violation of Title IX, the response was that ‘smaller’ women don’t need the same space as ‘larger’ male athletes, and no action was taken,” the complaint alleges.
  • The UMD men’s hockey team received a budget of $10,000 for snacks before and after practices; the women’s team, with three fewer student-athletes, received $2,000.
  • UMD provided the men’s hockey team with pre- and post-game meals, while in the 2014-15 season the women’s team was given only post-game meals, and then after only the first game of a two-game series.
  • Between semesters when meals were not served in dorms, the UMD men’s hockey team received $10,700 for “break meals” while the women’s team received $5,000.
  • In the 2014-15 season, the men’s and women’s hockey teams were supposed to share the expense of a particular video-editing technology; the women’s team budget was charged $13,000 and the men’s budget was charged $500.

PDF: The full complaint can be viewed here.

UMD’s Williams declined comment on the specific allegations, saying that’s something to be worked out during the legal process.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) guidelines say a complaint must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination, though a waiver may be granted in "certain limited circumstances." The complaint filed this week states that “the discriminatory acts forming the basis of this complaint occurred within 180 days of its filing,” and cites the “ongoing nature of the problems documented.”

The OCR website does not provide a timetable for assessing complaints. It states that “opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

The OCR’s role “is to be a neutral fact-finder and to promptly resolve complaints” it investigates, its website states.

Lawsuit pending


The complaint comes nearly a year after UMD announced it would not renew Miller’s contract after the 2014-15 season. In September, Miller, Banford and Wiles filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit by the three openly gay female coaches outlines concerns over disparities in the treatment of men's and women's sports programs at UMD and claims that university administrators discriminated against the three coaches and failed to investigate reports of harassment and discrimination.

"Sexism and homophobia are alive and well at the University of Minnesota," Miller said in September. The former coach, who led the Bulldogs to five NCAA national championships, said the previous UMD administration supported women's sports and the rights of lesbian coaches and students.

“Changes in the campus leadership and hiring of the new athletic director led to the purge of the women you see before you today,” she said.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, and while no dollar amounts have been mentioned, the plaintiffs are seeking back pay, front pay and damages.

UMD Chancellor Lynn Black in September declined to respond to specific allegations but defended the school’s handling of the situation.  

"I would say that we do take all matters of concern that are expressed to us seriously, and we do investigate," Black told the News Tribune.

Siegel said Wednesday that there has been “very little progress” in the suit against UMD.


Lisa Kaczke, Matt Wellens and Andrew Krueger of the News Tribune contributed to this report.

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