A Title IX lawsuit in Minnesota involving one of the most decorated women's hockey coaches in history has led to a rare award of front pay for her loss of a position.
Coaches Flee University of Minnesota Duluth, Then Bring Title IX Claims
Shannon Miller was the women's hockey coach at the University of Minnesota at Duluth (UMD), breaking records for amassing wins, Frozen Four Tournaments, and national championships in the women's hockey and college hockey worlds. When she and several other women coaches at UMD were refused contract extensions after filing Title IX allegations against UMD for a hostile working environment due to gender and sexual orientation discrimination, they sued the school for retaliating against them for raising their Title IX rights.
Hockey Coach Wins $3.74 Million Verdict for Retaliatory Termination
After numerous motions and hundreds of pages of filings that ended the claims of the other coaches, the trial was held in March 2018. It ended with the jury finding that UMD had violated Title IX, and awarded Ms. Miller $3.74 million – over $740,000 for lost wages and another $3 million for emotional distress. The lost wages were meant to cover for Ms. Miller's back pay or the income that she would have received between the non-renewal of her contract and the date of the verdict.
At the time of the trial, the court had declined to determine whether to award front pay or income that Ms. Miller would have reasonably anticipated after the date of the verdict, had her contract been extended.
Court Adds Front Pay to Verdict, But Declines to Reinstate Coach
Since the verdict, the court was brought back to the case by numerous motions by UMD, challenging the outcome, and by Ms. Miller, asking for reinstatement to her old position as women's hockey coach.
The court refused to reinstate Ms. Miller, in part because it would upset the structure of the team, which had been entirely recruited by Ms. Miller's successor, and in part because Ms. Miller was claiming that she would have remained in the program for another 12 to 15 years, bringing her tenure on the team to an exceedingly rare 35 years.
Instead, the court opted to award Ms. Miller front pay – the amount of wages that she would have expected to receive had she not been let go – in the amount of $461,278. The amount was meant to cover a coaching tenure that would have ended at UMD in 2020, minus the income that Ms. Miller made while coaching in the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
Now that the verdict and award are finalized, UMD is expected to ask the court to overturn or reduce the verdict, and if that does not work, they are expected to appeal the outcome.
National Title IX Attorney Joseph D. Lento
As we will show in a future blog post, there were numerous important intangibles that were present in this case that highlight how tricky, and even fickle, the Title IX process can be.