DULUTH — Two former coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth are taking their federal discrimination lawsuit to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jen Banford, whose softball coaching contract was not renewed in 2014, and Annette Wiles, who alleged she was forced to resign her women’s basketball coaching position in 2015 “due to a hostile work environment,” are contesting last year’s dismissal of their claims of sexual orientation-based harassment and discrimination.
Former women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller is also part of the appeal, though she has reached a tentative settlement with the university that is still being finalized.
“We put Shannon in as a precaution,” said Sharon L. Van Dyck, a Minneapolis appellate lawyer representing the former coaches. “As soon as her settlement is in she’ll drop out. There’s no reason to believe everything isn’t going to be signed, sealed, delivered.”
Van Dyck will be filing a motion to effectively pause the appeal, she said, as a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on related cases could determine if this one moves forward. The ruling, which could set a precedent on whether sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is expected by June.
“It will control the outcome of the case,” Van Dyck said. “We’re asking them to stay the appeal so we’re not spinning our wheels.”
In February 2018 United States District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz agreed with UMD’s request to dismiss claims by Banford and Wiles, writing that “the Eighth Circuit has held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination” on the basis of sexual orientation.
Only Miller’s gender discrimination claims made it to trial.
After a federal jury decided that trial in Miller’s favor later that spring, all three coaches brought their claims to state court. But because too much time had elapsed, a district judge and later an appeals court ruled, the case could not move forward.
The coaches have appealed that case to the state Supreme Court. Miller’s settlement would drop her from that case as well.