Updated: March 06, 2018 10:22 PM
The Shannon Miller v. UMD discrimination trial has hit the ground running, with a jury selected, opening statements finished and the first two witnesses taking the stand Tuesday.
The eight women and four men of the jury will decide if there is enough evidence to support the former women’s hockey coach’s claims that she was discriminated against based on sex and retaliated against for complaints that UMD did not treat men’s and women’s sports equally.
Tuesday afternoon, attorneys for each sides gave their opening statements and Miller's team called their first two witnesses.
Dan Siegel, one of Miller's attorneys, presented his case first.
"Shannon Miller is regarded as perhaps the best and most successful hockey coach in the world today," Siegel told the jury.
He emphasized her five national championship wins with the UMD women's hockey team.
Siegel said Miller was told her contract would not be renewed at a Dec. 9, 2014, meeting with Chancellor Lendley Black and Athletic Director Josh Berlo. Siegel said at first, UMD's consistent response was that they could not afford a $200,000 salary.
According to Siegel, that changed as time went on, and later, UMD leadership said there were "other considerations," such as Miller's performance.
One of UMD's attorneys, Jeanette Bazis, said Black's and Berlo's decision not to renew Miller's contract was "absolutely not" based on sex and that her complaints about equity in women's sports "played no role whatsoever."
Defense pointed to the 2014-15 season in which UMD women's hockey chalked two losses to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lost and tied with the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and had one loss against the University of North Dakota.
"This is not what Mr. Black and Mr. Berlo were hoping to see nor what Ms. Miller was paid to achieve," Bazis said.
She said there were not shifting reasons for not renewing Miller's contract. Rather, she said, it was in the interest of student athletes who were not getting the "championship experience."
The first witness called was former Chancellor Kathryn Martin.
Martin answered questions about the establishment of UMD women's hockey and her role in recruiting and hiring Miller. The coach won all five of her national championships while Martin was chancellor.
"I think she would match up with anyone," Martin said about her opinion of Miller's success.
Martin said what was most important to her regarding athletics during her 15 years as chancellor of UMD was gender equity.
She said she loved her time at UMD and found it hard to testify against an institution she holds in high regard, but she said she feels responsible to testify for equity.
Chancellor Black was next to be called to the stand. He answered questions about UMD's Code of Conduct, Equal Opportunity Statement and the Board of Regents policy for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
Black also explained more about the timeline of meetings and email exchanges leading up to the nonrenewal of Miller's contract.
He said Miller was told about the university's financial troubles in a July 29, 2014 meeting. No decision was made about her contract then. Her contract was set to expire in June of 2015.
Miller allegedly sent Black a follow-up email, which was an exhibit in court Tuesday, expressing her desire for a two-year contract extension and laying out the concerns she had about not having a contract in place. She told Black in the email that high school players were beginning to give verbal commitments and that parents were concerned about sending their daughters to play for UMD when they didn't know who the coach would be in the future.
Black responded to Miller's email in September, about a month later, according to statements made in court.
The next time they talked about her contract was the Dec. 9, 2014, meeting when Miller was told UMD was not keeping her on as a coach.
Black will take the stand again Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. when the trial resumes.
"This is all kind of almost like an athletic event -- a lot of training, a lot of practice, and then finally, you get into it," Siegel said outside the courthouse after testimony let out for the day. "You get the first couple of hits done, and then you start feeling good about what you're doing."
Siegel told Eyewitness News he expects to call Berlo as a witness on Wednesday.
Lynne Williams, UMD director of marketing and public relations, said, "Out of respect for the jury, UMD will hold any comments until after the jury returns a verdict."
Judge Patrick Schiltz told potential jurors he expects the trial to last through Wednesday, March 14.
Updated: March 06, 2018 10:22 PM
Created: March 06, 2018 11:30 AM
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