Three former University of Minnesota Duluth sports coaches, all female, are suing the university for a total of $18 million for illegally discriminating against them. The former coaches filed the suit back in 2015, accusing the university of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and national origin.
According to the university, one of the coaches contracts was not renewed in 2014 due to poor performance and financial needs, while the other coaches voluntarily left their positions. The university is confident in its position, having filed a motion asking the court to issue a decision in its favor on the basis of undisputed evidence.
One of the coaches participating in the litigation claims, however, that UMD leadership told her that the decision not to renew her contract was based strictly on financial need, and that declining performance was only mentioned after she had accused the university of discrimination when the university’s financial reasoning was questioned. She claims she was let go during a “purge” of the athletics department of gay women. That purge, she claims, resulted in a hostile work environment that forced the other two coaches to resign.
Whether or not the university’s motion is granted depends on whether a reasonable jury could determine that discrimination occurred. Though the university is confident in its position, the former coaches include within their filings allegations that they reported harassment to university officials who failed to act, and that there was a culture of discrimination and retaliation at UMD.
It remains to be seen how this case will be resolved, but it is worth commenting that proving discrimination is not necessarily an easy matter. Whether a plaintiff is seeking to prove that an employer had a discriminatory intent in taking adverse employment action, or that the employer established policies that unfairly impacted an employee or employees in a protected class, presenting strong evidence to support allegations of discrimination is critical. Skilled legal counsel can help give one the best possible opportunity to reach a favorable resolution in an employment discrimination case.
We’ll say more about this in a future post.