One morning, she wouldn’t say exactly when, Shannon Miller rolled into work as usual. The University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s hockey coach wasn’t the first one in. As she approached her office she noticed her name plate that usually hangs outside was missing. A hate-filled sticky note on her door offered some insight.
“Dyke,” it read.
“Sexism and homophobia are alive and well at the University of Minnesota,” the ousted coach stated at a Monday press conference.
The terse Post-It note harassment wasn’t the only time Miller, who led the Bulldogs to five national championships, had a workplace D-bomb dropped on her. Starting in 2010, the openly gay ex-coach received hate mail in her office mailbox, several calling her a “dyke,” often on athletics department stationary. Others included newspaper clippings showing how many fewer fans came to women’s hockey games than men’s games.
Things got worse after athletic director Josh Berlo started at UMD in 2013. On several occasions, Miller says Berlo made it clear that he wasn’t wild about gay people and apparently Canadians. Allegedly, Berlo once pressured her to fill a staff position with a straight white guy from Minnesota. Like Miller, her coaching staff was comprised of openly gay Canadian women and Berlo often grumbled about how “there are too many Canadians here,” according to a complaint.
“Mr. Berlo seems to be one of these equal opportunity bigots,” quipped Dan Siegel, Miller’s attorney.
On Monday, the hotshot lawyer filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, alleging Miller and two other lesbian coaches were forced out following a pattern of discrimination. The other coaches, former softball coach and women’s hockey director of operations Jen Banford, and women’s hoops boss Annette Wiles, declined to speak to the media on Monday.
The lawsuit argues that the university violated Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation at schools receiving federal cash. The complaint also contends that men’s programs had larger budgets and perks that weren’t available to the women.
In December 2014, Miller was told her contract would not be renewed due to a budget deficit. With a $200,000-plus salary, the former Olympian was the highest paid Division I women’s hockey coach. Miller says the school is paying its new coach Maura Crowell about $67,000 less.
In the wake of the coaches’ departures, the school’s LGBT services director Angie Nichols resigned last week.
A UMD spokesperson did not immediately return calls seeking comment.