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Judge Hears Motion to Dismiss in Coaches' Lawsuit Against UMD

Baihly Warfield
Updated: July 12, 2018 10:19 PM

MINNEAPOLIS - UMD would like to see a judge dismiss three former coaches' state lawsuit against the university. 

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Former women's hockey coach Shannon Miller, former women's basketball coach Annette Wiles and former softball coach Jen Banford filed a state lawsuit in March of this year. It followed a nearly two-week trial in which a jury awarded Miller $3.74 million. Banford's and Wiles' claims were dismissed from the federal lawsuit. 

In the separate state lawsuit, the coaches are making five claims: 

  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • Retaliation based on sexual orientation (via the Minnesota Human Rights Act)
  • Creation of a hostile work environment
  • Violation of the Equal Pay for Equal Work law
  • Violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act

When it went to trial, Miller's federal suit dealt with claims of discrimination based on sex and retaliation for complaints about Title IX violations. 

At Thursday's hearing in front of Judge Daniel Moreno, UMD had three arguments for why the suit should be dismissed. 

First, Senior Associate General Counsel Tim Pramas with the University of Minnesota said the statute of limitations had passed for filing suit on some of the claims, namely the retaliation claim based on the Human Rights Act and the Equal Pay for Equal Work claim. 

"Those statutes require a lawsuit to be brought within one year," Pramas said after the hearing. "Here, they waited to go to state court for nearly three years."

But Attorney Dan Siegel, who is representing Miller, Banford and Wiles, said the time they spent on the federal court battle, which ended in March, should not count.

"There's a doctrine of equitable estoppel under which the time when you're in what turns out to be the wrong court doesn't count," Siegel explained his perspective. 

The second argument UMD presented was that there is some overlap in some of the retaliation claims. Pramas' third point was that the state suit attempts to re-litigate issues the federal court has already ruled on. 

"What we contend they're doing now in state court is to try to get a second bite at the apple," Pramas said. "They want to bring the same claims, package them this time as a state law claim and try their luck with those claims."

Siegel said these should be treated as brand new claims.

"The jury in the federal court case never ruled on whether there was sexual orientation bias or whether there was retaliation for complaining about sexual orientation bias," Siegel said, "and nor did Judge (Patrick) Schiltz when he did his summary judgment."

Siegel pointed out when Schiltz, a federal judge, issued his summary judgment, he said the sexual orientation claims were the strongest, but he didn't have the jurisdiction to hear them. So Siegel said he is confident. 

"We think that this (state) court will do the right thing and will understand that as a judge exercising his equitable jurisdiction, he's supposed to do what's right," he said. 

According to Pramas, the judge has asked them to go to mediation. 

"We participate in anything the court asks us to participate in, and we do so in good faith," Pramas said. 

Judge Moreno has 90 days to decide if he wants to throw out any or all of the claims in Miller, Banford and Wiles' state lawsuit. 

Both sides are also still waiting on one aspect of the federal case. Judge Schiltz will decide if Miller is entitled to any money for future lost wages, which would be in addition to the $3.74 million already awarded. Schiltz's decision is expected on or after Sept. 10, when the briefing period closes. 

Pramas said the university is biding its time, waiting for that judgment before it can issue any appeal to the federal jury's decision in favor of Miller. 

Credits

Baihly Warfield

Copyright 2018 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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