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Miller, Banford Testify on Day Five of Discrimination Trial

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 12, 2018 10:43 PM

Monday's testimony in Shannon Miller v. UMD featured only two witnesses -- Miller and her partner, Jen Banford. 

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Miller sued UMD in 2015, saying when the school did not renew her contract, it discriminated against her based on sex and retaliated against her for complaints about gender equity in athletics. 

Shannon Miller

Miller was on the stand for more than four hours Monday, finishing up attorneys' questioning about topics ranging from her recruiting history to her last season to her new business venture. 

Miller said that by spring 2014, most young women she was trying to recruit were asking for fifth year and summer school scholarships, something UMD did not offer on a broad basis for the men or women who played hockey. Miller said that was a disadvantage compared to what competitors like the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered.

She also said she complained to athletic administrators about UMD hockey summer camps. According to Miller, there were three weeks for boys players and one week for girls. Miller said the timing was also not ideal because the girls week often fell close after July 4. 

She said the summer camps were important because they were a "pipeline of relationships and recruiting." 

Athletic Director Josh Berlo said in his testimony last week that Chancellor Lendley Black had heard there were many women's hockey players leaving Miller's program in 2013-14. In response to that, Miller said it was necessary the six women go in order to move the program forward. 

According to Miller, three of the women were breaking both team rules and the law, using drugs and alcohol. She said she worked with them to find another school where they would be more successful. Miller said there were another two who were not playing enough and agreed with her that UMD was not a good fit, so they also transferred elsewhere. 

When it came to Miller's contract extension discussions, she maintained that Athletic Director Josh Berlo led her to believe she would be renewed. 

She said she was feeling good going into her Dec. 9, 2014 meeting with Berlo and Chancellor Black because her team had won 12 of their last 13 games and "we were on our way up." 

Miller was emotional and paused before answering how she felt when they said they were not renewing her contract. "Flattened, crushed, sick to my stomach" is how she described it. 

Miller testified that it was especially painful because she said she had five different opportunities to leave and make more money, but she stayed because she said she loved UMD. 

She said she opted to tell the team on her own because, "I am the leader of the team. I am the mom," and she wanted them to hear it from her before it leaked or there was a press release issued. 

"I loved those girls like they were my own kids," Miller said. 

Attorney Dan Siegel asked her why she filed the lawsuit, and she said it's because "it's extremely important for women to stand up against discrimination despite the risks." 

She said since she was let go, she has applied to or inquired about 50 jobs and has not gotten one yet. 

Now, she and her partner Jen Banford live in Las Vegas and run a business called Sunny Cycle in Palm Springs. 

When Siegel asked her how the last three years have affected her, she took another long pause. 

"I'm trying to be strong. I'm trying to recover, move on," Miller said in court. "But I feel like it's ruined me." 

On cross examination, a UMD attorney pressed her on the athletic department's response to four incidents of hate mail she had received. Attorney Tim Pramas reminded her that one or two UMD police officers had interviewed her, and the university's general counsel office got in touch with her too. However, Miller said that she had wanted it handled internally by the athletic director and did not want the police involved for fear the investigation would leak. 

Pramas also questioned Miller for awhile about travel expenses, going through how many places the men have to travel for conference games versus the women. Miller pushed back, claiming the men also got to travel more for non-conference play than the women did. 

Miller had also testified that she felt the season was turning around after some early losses, but Pramas pushed back, pointing out that many of the later wins were against teams with losing records. 

Jen Banford

Former head softball coach Jen Banford was the other witness Monday, testifying for most of the afternoon.

Banford was one of three coaches on the original lawsuit, but Judge Patrick Schiltz threw out her and former women's basketball coach Annette Wiles' claims a few weeks ago. 

Banford testified because she also worked part-time as the women's hockey director of operations and because as Miller's domestic partner, she has seen how this experience has changed Miller. 

When the line of questioning turned to the personal side, Banford said that Miller is "heartbroken" and still devastated about UMD's decision not to renew her contract. 

"Shannon's become very guarded from this experience," Banford said, citing that Miller now has trust issues and has distanced herself from people. 

According to Banford, she witnessed Miller give numerous complaints during budget meetings with Josh Berlo. Banford told the jury she felt like Berlo did not do much to address Miller's concerns about the women's hockey equipment manager, a lack of recruiting resources and an "inadequate" athletic trainer.  

During Banford's cross examination, UMD attorney Jeanette Bazis asked Banford if Josh Berlo helped her get a green card to live and work in the U.S. full-time. She said that he had written her a letter and gotten at least one friend of his to recommend her too.

Banford had been on Berlo's strategic planning committee for the athletics department in the spring of 2014. Documents shown in court showed that Banford had expressed concern that Miller was not selected for the committee. 

Bazis asked during cross examination if when Berlo asked for feedback and if anyone else wanted to participate, Miller volunteered. Banford answered that to her knowledge, Miller had not done so. 

Banford and Bazis went back and forth several times regarding the men's and women's hockey teams' director of operations duties. Bazis asked if Banford would agree that since the men's team had 3-4 more flights to arrange each season, the men needed a full-time director of operations. However, Banford maintained that her work as the part-time director of operations for the women's team was just as time consuming. 

Banford's testimony will pick up again Tuesday morning. 

Miller's attorneys have a couple more witnesses to call, then it will be UMD's turn. The case expected to be in the jurors' hands by Thursday. 

Credits

Baihly Warfield

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

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