The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by three former coaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth, tying up one loose end in the discrimination lawsuit launched in 2015.
Women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller, softball coach Jen Banford and women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles have alleged discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, among other allegations.
The trio initially sued in federal court, where most of their claims were dismissed in February 2018 by a U.S. district judge, who wrote that their strongest claims — that they experienced a hostile work environment due to their sexual orientation — did not fall under the federal court’s jurisdiction.
The coaches then took their suit to state court, but Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Moreno dismissed the case in October 2018, ruling that the complaints were “untimely” due to statutes of limitation. The three “could have brought all their claims — state and federal — in the state courts of Minnesota,” he wrote.
A Minnesota appeals court affirmed this decision in September.
The state Supreme Court’s recent decision does not affect the multimillion-dollar amount a federal court previously granted Miller. Only the former women’s hockey coach’s claims of gender discrimination were allowed to go to trial at the federal level, which concluded with a jury verdict in her favor.
The university and Miller have negotiated a settlement, but the details are not yet finalized. Absent a deal, and if judgments were to stand, the university would pay Miller $1.9 million in noneconomic damages and pay and benefits and an additional $2.4 million for legal fees and expenses.
The federal case has been appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. That litigation is on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a similar case that could set a precedent on whether sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A decision is expected by June. Should Miller’s settlement be approved, it would be just Banford and Wiles fighting the dismissal of their federal claims.
A university spokesperson said the judge’s decision speaks for itself and represents the points the school’s attorneys presented. An attorney for the coaches did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Staff writer Brooks Johnson contributed to this report.