The founding director of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services at the University of Minnesota Duluth resigned Thursday, saying she suffered retaliation after protesting the forced departures of gay coaches.
“I just realized that I was being used to try to change the reputation that UMD was gaining as a not-GLBT-friendly campus,” said Angie Nichols, who directed the school’s LGBT Services for 15 years.
Nichols, 44, said her job was going well until late last year, when the university did not renew contracts for head women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller and three members of her staff — all of whom are openly gay. Miller had the most Frozen Four tournament wins and Division I national championships of any NCAA women’s hockey coach.
After Miller’s dismissal, Nichols said, she raised concerns publicly and with Chancellor Lendley Black. “I let him know that he had just let go of four openly gay women,” she said. “From a risk-management perspective, this seems ridiculously risky. And I didn’t know the reasons, other than what the campus was saying, that we were in a financial crisis.”
Nichols said she asked Black to meet with Miller, but the meeting never happened. The dismissal prompted the national organization Campus Pride to drop UMD from its list of top LGBT-friendly colleges and universities.
Nichols, who also is openly gay, said that she started facing retaliation at work. She was left out of meetings, she said, and learned that her co-workers were placing bets on how long she’d last in her job.
“It’s not illegal to be mean to somebody; it’s not illegal to not engage someone anymore,” she said. “But I really felt like I had a target on my back.”
Nichols filed a retaliation claim against UMD in April. In September, an investigation found that she had not been subject to any retaliation.
In an interview Friday, Black said he can’t comment on a specific claim. “To my knowledge, there was no retaliation regarding Angie at all,” he said.
He recalled that Nichols had asked him to meet with Miller, “but given where we were in the process at that time and the events that unfolded soon afterward, it just was not appropriate to have a meeting,” he said.
Nichols said she fell into a deep depression, forcing her to take several weeks of medical leave over the summer.
She declined to say whether she will sue the university, but her attorney, Barbara Berens, said “we’re certainly exploring various alternatives.”
News conference Monday
Nichols’ resignation follows an announcement earlier this week that Miller, former softball coach Jen Banford and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles will hold a news conference Monday to discuss discrimination at UMD.
Last year, a judge awarded nearly $360,000 to former University of Minnesota associate golf coach Katie Brenny, who sued the school alleging that she was fired because she is a lesbian.
Helen Carroll, Sports Project director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said discrimination issues like these often affect the entire campus LGBT community.
“[LGBT] people, whether it’s staff or whether it’s faculty, are going to feel more fragile when they see how really well-established and cared-about coaches are being treated,” she said. “So they will feel like, ‘Oh, that could happen to me also.’ ”