DULUTH – A federal judge Thursday dismissed claims filed by two former women's athletic coaches against the University of Minnesota Duluth, granting a summary judgment to the university.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz made the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Jen Banford and Annette Wiles. Banford had been both a softball coach and operations director for the UMD women's hockey team and Wiles had coached women's basketball.
Wiles and Banford say they were subjected to a hostile work environment and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. Schiltz dismissed the claims in February 2018, but the case resumed following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2020 on protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
UMD asked again for a summary judgment last fall and a hearing was held in December.
In Thursday's ruling, Schiltz wrote that the allegations of Banford and Wiles weren't sufficient to support hostile environment or discrimination claims.
"The court previously held that Banford and Wiles had failed to show that they were subjected to a hostile environment sufficiently severe or pervasive to violate Title VII," he wrote. "In so holding, however, the court disregarded certain incidents of mistreatment related to sexual orientation, as the court was required to do under then-existing Eighth Circuit precedent. … Taking those incidents into consideration, however, does not change the result."
The federal court "agreed with our arguments," UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams said Thursday. "We believe that our motion speaks for itself and presented a compelling case for the judge to grant our summary judgment motion."
A summary judgment means a case is decided without moving to a trial.
An attorney for Banford and Wiles could not be reached Thursday. Banford said Thursday night she hadn't heard from her attorneys about the ruling, but she found the decision "very disappointing," and declined to comment further until she's been notified of next steps.
The federal suit was first filed in 2015 alongside a suit by former women's hockey coach Shannon Miller. Banford, like Miller, was told in December 2014 her contract would not be renewed. Court records show UMD later offered a contract to Banford that she rejected. Wiles resigned in 2015 due to a "hostile work environment," filings say.
Miller's discrimination case went forward based on her gender and not sexual orientation.
She won the long-running case in 2018 and settled with the university for $4.5 million in 2019. As part of her settlement she did not take part in Banford and Wiles' suit.
Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450