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Miller seeks up to $3M more from UMD

Shannon Miller is flanked by lead attorney, Dan Siegel, and Jen Branford after winning her discrimination lawsuit against UMD in March. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service

DULUTH — Attorneys for Shannon Miller believe the former University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey coach should be reinstated to her position or awarded up to an additional $3 million to compensate her for future lost wages and benefits.

The university maintains it would be impossible for Miller to reassume her post, and contends that she is not entitled to any additional damages because she has failed to make adequate efforts to secure new employment since UMD chose not to renew her contract nearly four years ago.

Miller was already awarded $3.74 million from a federal jury, which in March found that the five-time national championship-winning coach was subjected to sex discrimination and Title IX retaliation when she was let go after 16 seasons.

While that verdict was reached unanimously by 12 jurors, the decision whether to rehire Miller or increase her monetary award lies in the hands of just one person: U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz.

The judge, who presided over the two-week trial in Duluth, is expected to issue his ruling and a final judgment order in the coming months. That process must be completed before UMD can file any post-trial motions challenging the jury's findings.

In a recently filed memorandum, Miller's legal team argued that reinstatement is the "only equitable remedy that can make Shannon Miller whole."

"Miller is comfortable with the usual contract-to-contract employment world characteristic of of high-level ice hockey," her attorneys wrote. "She is confident her skills and dedication will enable her to succeed going forward just as it did before unlawful discriminatory employment termination entered the picture at UMD."

While reinstatement is considered a preferred remedy under the law, Miller's attorneys acknowledged a "likelihood this court will find reinstatement at this late date to be impractical for a variety of reasons."

Another coach, Maura Crowell, has held the position for the past three seasons and remains under contract through 2021-22. Athletic director Josh Berlo and Chancellor Lendley Black, whose decision to sever ties with Miller was at the center of the case, remain at the school.

"Reinstatement would require the displacement of the current head coach of women's hockey, as well as her three-person staff — all innocent bystanders," university attorneys wrote in an opposing brief. "Moreover, Miller has exhibited intense mistrust and hostility toward UMD's and the athletic department's current leadership, making reinstatement impractical — if not impossible."

In lieu of reinstatement, Miller's attorneys argued she is entitled to future damages, or front pay, continuing through a retirement age of 67 to 70. A Twin Cities accountant hired by her legal team calculated that figure to be between $1.8 million and $2.94 million.

Miller, 54, asserted that she has been unable to obtain comparable employment in the years since leaving UMD, despite submitting applications or engaging in informal discussions with other universities, National Hockey League teams, international hockey programs and a television network. Her attorneys also noted that there are only 35 Division I women's hockey teams in the country.

Miller was recently named head coach of the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women's Hockey League — but she reported that to be a part-time position, under contract only through April, paying approximately $30,000. She was making in excess of $200,000 a year by the end of her tenure at UMD.

UMD, however, asked Schiltz to deny any additional relief to Miller.

The university's attorneys said that while the jury ruled in Miller's favor, it also concluded in another question on its verdict form that the school would have made the decision not to offer her a new contract regardless of her sex.

Further, the attorneys contended that Miller has made little effort to mitigate her losses, failing to apply for many coaching or athletic director jobs she could reasonably expect to obtain.

They also noted that Miller in 2014 told Black and Berlo that she was preparing to move on from coaching. Miller later testified that the comment was part of a negotiating strategy to secure an extension, but the university has maintained that she was preparing to leave the position voluntarily.

Once Schiltz rules on Miller's motion, UMD has indicated that it intends to bring a motion to set aside the jury's verdict.

It is one of two pending discrimination cases involving Miller and UMD. In state court, a judge is considering the university's motion to dismiss a sexual discrimination case brought by Miller, former softball coach and women's hockey operations director Jen Banford and former women's basketball coach Annette Wiles.