What's next in the Shannon Miller case

Shannon Miller, former UMD women's hockey coach, in December 2014. Photo courtesy of Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune.

Shannon Miller, former UMD women's hockey coach, in December 2014. Photo courtesy of Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune.

(A full background on the case can be found here).

After a summary judgement in October, it is decided that former UMD women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller is going to trial against UMD in March of this year.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled on Thursday Feb. 1 that only Miller could proceed to trial in March. The two other plaintiffs, former softball coach and women’s hockey director of operations Jen Banford and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles may only recourse in state court, which they plan to do according to their attorney Dan Siegel.

Miller is proceeding to federal court on the $18 million lawsuit with allegations that she was subject to gender discrimination and Title IX retaliation at UMD. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination of any university academic or non-academic program or services as well as in all recruitment and employment decisions and actions. It also prohibits all forms of sexual misconduct.

After Schiltz announced that Banford and Wiles were dismissed from the upcoming trial, Lynne Williams, director of UMD Marketing and Public Relations, said that the university looks at the decision as positive.

“We see it as an encouragement that the judge significantly reduced the scope of the case,” Williams said.

The decision was similar to the comments that Schiltz had made during the summary judgement on Oct. 30. The summary judgement was requested by UMD with hopes to rule that Miller, Banford and Wiles had no case and not having to go through a trial.

UMD administration announced in Dec. 2014 that Miller was to be terminated after the 2014-15 season. A university press release stated that the decision was made based on financial reasons and declining athletic and academic performance from her team

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Schiltz was not fully convinced by the reasons the university had given. Miller’s case argues that the men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin had his contract renewed despite comparable, or worse, performance and UMD’s financial situation was not as serious as officials claimed.

The DNT also said that the judge cited the fact that Miller had, throughout her employment with UMD, complained about alleged disparities between men’s and women’s programs. The jury could possibly use this as evidence to conclude that Miller was in fact subjected to Title IX retaliation.

The news about the case finally going to trial was positively received by Miller. Attorney Dan Siegel, who is representing Miller, said that they are looking forward to the trial starting.

“We are looking to win the trial, and recover compensation for the discrimination, and to also set the record straight, to have a judgment that what UMD did to her was wrong,” Siegel said.

UMD is also preparing for the trial with a confident outlook.

“We continue to say as we have said from the very beginning, that we deny the the claims of the discrimination,” William said. “We continue to stand steady.”

Banford and Wiles are dismissed from the federal trial, but are headed to state court with attorney Siegel on their team. As the case has been going on for over two years, Siegel said that he finds it difficult to agree that the university did not make a request earlier for objections towards Banford and Wiles’ claims against it.

“The university has the absolute right to object to claims against them, so even though they waited so long to raise objections, the federal judge didn’t have a choice in granting them the request,” Siegel said. “In the sake of time I believe they should have objected a long time before.”

Senior General Council for UMD, Tim Pramas, said that the university identified its defenses in its answer to the plaintiff's complaint, served on the other side and filed in 2015.

“Once the period of time the court set for the parties to obtain discovery ended, the university then brought its summary judgment motion in accordance with the court’s scheduling orders,” Pramas said.

The trial date for Banford and Wiles is not yet determined. Miller’s trial will begin on March 5 and will continue up to two weeks. The trial will be located in the court of Duluth.

NewsIdun Rasmussen