UMD, Miller reach $4.5 million settlement
Shannon Miller will receive more than $2 million, with the balance going to her attorneys. The university maintains its denial of any wrongdoing.
Former University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey coach Shannon Miller and her attorneys will receive $4.53 million in a settlement with the school.
An agreement to resolve more than four years of litigation was finalized this week. It includes payments of approximately $2.1 million to Miller and $2.43 million to her attorneys.
"I’m very happy to have a signed document from the university and to be wrapping up the federal piece of this," Miller told the News Tribune. "I have yet to receive a dollar, so I think it will feel a little more real to me once I actually receive some financial compensation for what I've been through. But I'm very happy right now."
With the agreement, Miller and UMD will drop their ongoing appeals of a federal lawsuit, in which the university was ordered to pay a figure mirroring that of the settlement agreement. While a jury in March 2018 found UMD liable for sex discrimination and Title IX retaliation in the decision not to offer Miller a new contract, the agreement specifically allows the university to maintain a denial of any wrongdoing or violation of law.
"UMD welcomes the conclusion of this matter," spokeswoman Lynne Williams said. "We look forward to continuing support of our students in and out of the classroom, including their athletics endeavors."
The settlement does not affect Miller's two co-plaintiffs, former softball coach and women's hockey operations director Jen Banford and former women's basketball coach Annette Wiles. They will continue to contest the dismissal of their case, which alleges discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The formal execution of the settlement agreement comes just days after the fifth anniversary of UMD officials notifying Miller that her contract would not be renewed after 16 seasons, including five national championships, as the only head coach in the history of the women's hockey program.
Half a decade later, Miller said she considers the settlement "a huge victory."
"Women are standing up and women are winning," she said. "The message is simply that we're not going to take it. We're going to stand up and fight for what's right. It's simply justice. I hope that others will follow."
Resolving years of lawsuits
Earlier this fall, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz formally ordered UMD to pay Miller $1.96 million in damages, along with more than $2.53 million in attorneys' fees, expenses and interest.
Miller on Sept. 30 accepted a reduced federal award that included $750,000 for past emotional distress, $744,832 for past lost wages and benefits and $461,278 for future economic benefits. She declined a new trial after a judge upheld the jury's findings but slashed an "excessive" $4.21 million verdict.
As news of a tentative settlement was announced in early October, appeals were being filed at the 8th Circuit by both sides. Miller was challenging issues including the dismissal of her sexual-orientation discrimination claims, the order sharply reducing her award and an order denying her motion for reinstatement to her former position. UMD had appealed the judgment in Miller's favor, the award of front pay and an order denying the university's motion to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial.
Meanwhile, a state lawsuit reached its conclusion earlier this month, when the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review a decision dismissing a separate case filed by Miller, Banford and Wiles. The coaches had sued in state court after their orientation claims were dismissed from federal court due to a lack of jurisdiction. A state judge subsequently ruled that the lawsuit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired.
Schiltz earlier opined that the orientation allegations may have been the "strongest" element of the women's case, but said he could not consider those claims under 8th Circuit precedent. But that issue is now the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case that is expected to have major ramifications for Banford and Wiles.
The nation's highest court is expected to rule by June on the issue of whether the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the meantime, the 8th Circuit has agreed to hold off on further proceedings in Banford and Wiles' appeal.
Miller says 'life is good'
In exchange for releasing her claims, Miller will receive an up-front payment of $508,000. An additional $1.59 million will be put into an annuity, allowing her to receive monthly payments of $22,451 for the next six years.
The law firms representing Miller will also receive checks from the university: Siegel, Yee, Brunner & Mehta of Oakland, Calif., will be paid $1.37 million; Fafinski, Mark & Johnson of Eden Prairie, Minn., will get $1.04 million; and Van Dyck Law of Minneapolis will receive $38,947.
The settlement won't immediately or directly impact the bottom line at UMD, which is facing $5.2 million in budget cuts next year. Legal settlements are covered by the Regents of the University of Minnesota Insurance Company, which spreads risk across all five U of M System campuses.
Despite the long legal battle, Miller said "life is good." She and Banford currently operate a pedal-pub business in Palm Springs, Calif. , and Miller, 56, said she is still not giving up hope of a return to coaching hockey.
With a highly public case, Miller said she hopes the settlement will send a strong message against discrimination, though she has yet to see any meaningful change at the university. She expressed hope that new U of M President Joan Gabel would provide new leadership on the issue.
"There have been a lot of women that have have stood up and have fought back and have won, and there's going to be more," Miller said. "I guess that's why us little guys really hope that people in positions of power and leadership and responsibility like the Board of Regents and the president of the university will do the right thing. They haven't done the right thing yet. They've lost and it's been very public. A lot of people are still watching and hoping there will be some positive change come from this."