Friday, January 22, 2016

Attorneys Issue Response to Accusations in Lawsuit Filed by Former UMD Women's Coaches

Ahead of a scheduled pre-trial conference Monday, attorneys for the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota have issued a response to a lawsuit filed by former UMD coaches Shannon Miller, Jen Banford, and Annette Wiles. The lawsuit alleges discrimination by UMD based on gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and age, allegations strongly denied by the defendant.

I have obtained a copy of the response, which was filed Wednesday. The 11-page document answers allegations levied by Miller, Banford, and Wiles.

Specifically, the response to the lawsuit addresses claims made by Miller regarding scholarship money allocated to the men's and women's hockey programs.

According to the statement of case: "Indeed, the total women’s hockey scholarship funding has historically exceeded that of the men’s hockey team. For instance, in 2014–15, total scholarships of $460,785 were awarded for women’s hockey, versus $408,754 for men’s hockey, even though the men’s team had more players."

The statement goes on to refute Miller's allegation of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation by noting the female who was hired to take over the UMD women's program (Maura Crowell) identifies as gay.

It also addresses claims by Miller that the school's treatment of men's coach Scott Sandelin is evidence of discrimination towards her. The statement says Sandelin's contract doesn't expire until 2017, and notes his 6-2 record in three recent appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Over that same time span, Miller's teams went 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament. It also notes that Sandelin's base salary was $265,000, not "in excess of $300,000" as claimed in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also brings up the contract extension given to football coach Curt Wiese as support of discrimination allegations. The school refutes that, noting Wiese's salary was a fraction of Miller's, and his teams had performed consistently at a high level.

From the statement of case: "Wiese’s pay of $85,000 was approximately 40% of Miller’s, and—unlike Miller—he was not the highest paid coach in his sport’s level of intercollegiate athletics (i.e., NCAA Division II football).  He was not even the highest-paid football coach in UMD’s conference (the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC)).  Rather, Wiese’s pay ranked 8th out of 16 in the conference. Yet, since Wiese’s arrival (as offensive coordinator, then promoted to head coach in 2012) at UMD in February 2008, the football team has gone 86-10 (for an .895 winning percentage—a figure unmatched by any Division II football program), and the team captured two NCAA Division II national championships (2008 and 2010) along with six NSIC titles (2008–12 and 2014) while producing two perfect 15-0 seasons."

Regarding Banford, the statement of case accuses her of hiding a significant fact from her January 2015 disclosure to ESPNw and other media outlets that she was being non-renewed as UMD's softball coach and director of women's hockey operations.

Again, taken from the statement: "A few days after (Assistant Athletic Director Jay) Finnerty emailed Banford the non-renewal letter regarding the hybrid position, on or about December 16, 2014, Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Karen Stromme met with the softball team and told them that Banford would be their softball coach for the coming season.  Finnerty then spoke to Banford on or about December 17, 2014, and told her that it would be an approximately 60-day process to provide her the new appointment as head softball coach.  Berlo also spoke with Banford on or about December 18, 2014, and communicated that the University fully intended to retain her and that they were working through the details. 

"About one month later, on January 15, 2015, Banford inquired of Finnerty by email as to the status of the new appointment.  Finnerty advised her in person that same day that the appointment was still in process.  Also that same day, Finnerty facilitated the electronic scheduling of a January 20, 2015 meeting with Berlo and Banford to explain where they were in the process.  Banford accepted the meeting appointment.  Two days later, on January 17, 2015, Banford electronically declined the previously-accepted January 20th meeting and apparently reported to the media that her contract as head softball coach had been non-renewed.  Banford supplied the media only with the letter of non-renewal of the hybrid Head Softball Coach/Director of Women’s Hockey position and neglected to supply the media with Finnerty’s cover email.  Thus, on Sunday, January 18, 2015, ESPNw reported that Banford said that she received notice that her Head Softball Coach position would not be renewed.  The online version of the story provided a link to the non-renewal letter, but not the cover email, which Banford chose to hide from the press."

The response also notes that UMD's softball team played its greatest number of home games in the last five years, as the teams that shared Malosky Stadium -- football, track and field, and soccer -- made accommodations for each other, as well as for softball. It also denies Banford's allegations that equipment for players was "held hostage" by the school.

Wiles, you might remember, resigned from UMD after the 2014-15 season, alleging a hostile work environment. The school denies such an environment existed, and the response notes a conversation Wiles had with two other coaches in the spring of 2015 where she admitted she didn't experience a hostile work environment and said UMD was a "great place to work."

The statement of case goes on to detail the friendship between Wiles and UMD Assistant Athletic Director Abbey Strong. It says Wiles severed that friendship in October 2014 after she incurred charges of over $1,000 for wear and tear on a leased Toyota vehicle that was provided to her free of charge. The contract said Wiles would responsible for wear and tear charges and mileage overages, but she wanted Strong to find money in the department's budget to pay for them. When Strong struggled to do that, "Wiles became hostile toward Strong -- not the other way around," the statement says.

"Coaches throughout the Athletic Department were treated similarly with respect to leased vehicles: each coach who received a leased vehicle rather than a monthly stipend signed a lease with Toyota obliging the coach to pay wear-and-tear charges, mileage overage charges, and the like."

The statement also says Wiles -- like Banford and Miller -- are alleging gender discrimination when UMD hired a woman (Mandy Pearson) for the position of women's basketball head coach.

The final page of the statement of case addresses unequal pay accusations.

"Plaintiffs’ allegation that they received unequal pay for equal work is meritless. Compensation for each employee depends on job performance, duties and responsibilities, and market conditions.  An employee’s gender and sexual orientation were not considered in determining compensation."

More to come as the case continues.

No comments: