MINNEAPOLIS — Former Canadian women’s hockey team coach Shannon Miller and two other former University of Minnesota-Duluth female coaches have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school saying they lost their jobs because they’re female and gay.

Miller, from Melville, Sask., led the Bulldogs to five NCAA women’s championships in her 16 seasons there. UMD cited a budget deficit when it told her last December that it would not renew her contract.

The other plaintiffs in the suit are former women’s softball coach Jen Banford, who was also director of operations for UMD women’s hockey, and former women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles.

Banford, who is from Ottawa, and Miller allege in the lawsuit filed Monday that the university dismissed them because they’re female, gay and Canadian.

Wiles says she was forced out because of her gender and sexual orientation. Miller, 51, and Wiles, 46, also allege age discrimination.

“We continue to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit,” UMD chancellor Lendley Black said Monday in a statement. “I continue to stand behind the athletics department under the leadership of Josh Berlo, and the direction of UMD athletics.

“UMD continues its focus and commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion, and I am personally committed to continuing an environment where diversity is embraced.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified back pay and compensatory damages, as well as lawyers’ fees.

The suit accuses the university of unlawfully retaliating against the women for reporting that other school employees harassed them because they were lesbians, and of creating a hostile work environment that made it difficult to do their jobs.

It also says the women were paid less and had smaller budgets than their male counterparts on the men’s hockey, baseball and basketball teams.

Miller is a former Calgary police officer who coached the Canadian women to a world championship in 1997 as well as Olympic silver in 1998. She was assistant coach for the Canadian women when they won world titles in 1992 and 1994.

Her record at UMD was 383-144-56, which ranks fourth all-time among Division 1 women’s coaches. The Bulldog women won three straight national titles from 2001 to 2003 and again in 2008 and 2010 under Miller.

Twenty-six alumni have represented their respective countries at Winter Olympics, including Canada’s Caroline Ouellette and Haley Irwin.

Miller’s contract at UMD expired in June. The contracts of her assistant coaches Gina Kingsbury and Laura Schuler, both former Canadian team players, were also not renewed.

The school named Maura Crowell as Miller’s replacement April 3. Laura Bellamy and Samantha Reber were named assistant coaches June 15.

Schuler, from Toronto, is coaching the Canadian women’s team this season, which isn’t a full-time position. Kingsbury, from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., was hired by Hockey Canada as a director of women’s national teams. They did not join in the lawsuit.

Miller says she was repeatedly told the decision to jettison her was because of “financial constraints.”

Minnesota-Duluth is facing a budget deficit due in part to declining enrolment. Men’s and women’s hockey are UMD’s only Division 1 sports with the rest in Division 2.

Berlo said Miller was the highest-paid coach in Division 1 women’s hockey with a reported salary of just over US$200,000 in her final season.

The lawsuit contends that Bulldogs men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin earns a base salary of $300,000 and is still employed by UMD.

Miller has said she was willing to take a pay cut, but not asked to do so before she was informed Dec. 9 that the 2014-15 hockey season would be her last behind the Bulldogs’ bench.

She has hired lawyers from both Minnesota and California.

Her Oakland lawyer, Dan Siegel, helped female volleyball, basketball and softball coaches, as well as a female associate athletic director, win financial settlements against their employer Fresno State in 2007 and 2008.


With files from The Canadian Press.

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