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Ousted Coaches Fire Back at Univ. of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Three lesbian coaches who say the University of Minnesota fired or forced them out in the last year filed a federal complaint against the school's governing body.

Shannon Miller, who notes that she is the most successful women's hockey coach in history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, filed the complaint Monday, joined by two other former Bulldogs coaches at the University of Minnesota.

Jen Banford coached women's softball, and Annette Wiles coached women's basketball.

All three women identify as gay, and all three women are out of a job.

The 45-page complaint describes a pattern of preferential treatment for men's sports and for straight, male coaches. Two of the women are also Canadian, something the complaint alleges also accounts for discrimination at the University of Minnesota.

Responding to the lawsuit, chancellor Lendley Black said the school "is prepared to handle this matter through the legal process."

"We continue to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit," Black said in a statement. "I continue to stand behind the athletics department under the leadership of Josh Berlo, and the direction of UMD athletics. UMD continues its focus and commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion, and I am personally committed to continuing an environment where diversity is embraced."

Miller, a Canadian who has been the school's first and only women's hockey coach for the last 16 years, says she was unwilling to retire at age 51.

She took repeated pay cuts, though, reflecting the "pay disparity ... [with] other similarly-situated coaches at the university who are male, straight, American, and/or under 40 years of age," according to the complaint.

Miller says her team had won 12 of its last 13 games on Dec. 9, 2014, when she received the bad news about her future at the school from Berlo and chancellor Black.

They said "that her contract - and the contracts of her entire coaching staff, consisting of three women, all of whom are Canadian citizens and identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT) - would not be renewed, effective June 30, 2015," according to the complaint.

Though the school has publicly chalked Miller's termination up to "financial reasons," Miller notes that Scott Sandelin, the current men's hockey coach at Minnesota-Duluth, earned at least $93,200 more than the school paid her.

"Despite earning more than Miller, Sandelin's career winning percentage is only .506, and he has won only one national championship," according to the complaint.

Banford, a fellow Canadian who used to coach women's softball, says the school targeted her because of her outspoken support of Miller and her position as director of operations for the women's hockey team.

The 34-year-old got the unexpected news on Dec. 11, according to the complaint.

While Miller and Banford describe a failure to renew their contracts, 46-year-old Wiles, the only U.S.-born plaintiff, says she "was forced to resign ... due to the hostile and discriminatory environment created by the university."

"In Wiles' 22 years as a collegiate head women's basketball coach, she had never previously experienced the discrimination, hostility, and utter lack of professionalism exhibited by the university," the complaint states.

Wiles says she had been new to the job in 2013 when she served as the keynote speaker for the GLBT National Coming Out Day on Minnesota-Duluth's campus.

After that ceremony, Wiles allegedly felt an immediate attitude shift from school officials.

She says Berlo cornered her a few days later while they were working alone, asking "Did you give it a lot of thought before you decided to speak?"

"Wiles understood Berlo's remark to mean he was questioning Wiles' wisdom in deciding to speak at the luncheon because it would negatively affect her career," the complaint states.

Wiles says as a result of the university's hostility toward her, and the discrimination she experienced, "she has gained more than 80 pounds over the past year-and-a-half, has been admitted numerous times to the emergency room with chest pains, and has been forced to seek medical attention for stress-related ailments."

The former coaches seek damages for emotional distress, discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, civil rights violations and Whistleblower Act violations.

They are represented by Donald Chance Mark Jr. with Fafinski Mark & Johnson P.A.

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