Former Olympic coach wins $3.7M US in discrimination case

Canada’s former Olympic women’s hockey coach has been awarded $3.7 million US in a discrimination lawsuit against her previous employer, the University of Minnesota.

Shannon Miller, who coached Team Canada to a silver in Nagano, sued U of Minnesota in 2015

Hockey coach Shannon Miller, centre, in the purple shirt, family members and legal team gathered outside a Duluth, Minn., courthouse after she was awarded $3.7 million US in a discrimination lawsuit. (submitted)

A former Olympic women's hockey coach has been awarded $3.7 million US in a lawsuit against her previous employer, in a case she calls a "landmark" for women facing discrimination.

"There's been plenty of time to treat female athletes equal to male athletes. And it just hasn't been done — and time's up," said Miller, 54, who hails from Melfort, Sask. 

"I'm certainly not the only person that's standing up and fighting back, and I think my case and my victory will encourage a lot of women to do it."

Miller sued the University of Minnesota in 2015 after her contract as head coach of the school's hockey team was not renewed. At the time, she was the most successful women's university hockey coach in U.S. history, winning a record five NCAA Division 1 titles, and had coached Team Canada to a silver medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

She said she turned down other coaching opportunities and more money to stay on with the university. However, she said she was called midway through a successful season and administrators, citing a $6 million deficit, told her they could not afford to keep her and her staff. 

That response was like a slap in the face, Miller told CBC News. 

"That's never happened to a male, it never will happen to a male, not to a successful coach," she said. 

The university's higher-paid men's hockey coach, who was not nearly as successful, was not dismissed.

When she was let go in 2014, campus protests and online petitions were launched. 

Miller said she felt compelled to take action against the discrimination she faced not only as a woman, but also because of her sexual orientation, as an openly gay member of the elite hockey world. 

"I just decided, 'Yes it's a giant, but I'm going to take on the giant. And there's only one way to oppose discrimination and that's to fight it," said Miller. 

'Truth came out'

The statement of claim, filed in United States District Court of Duluth, Minn., said the university violated state and university gender discrimination and employment laws. 

The jury agreed this week, awarding Miller $744,800 US in lost wages and benefits, and $3 million US for "other past damages." The judge will also be awarding her for future lost wages.  

Administrators also cited the poor performance of the team in recent years, even though Miller's squad won their last 12 of 13 games under her leadership.

Miller said she had "extraordinary evidence" and the support of alumni witnesses that helped her win the case.

"The truth came out and the truth won."

About the Author

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition