U of M system to shoulder cost of Miller award: Discrimination ruling has broad impact, experts say (USA)
The impact of the $3.74 million awarded Thursday, March 15, to Shannon Miller in her lawsuit against the University of Minnesota Duluth will not be shouldered by UMD alone.
University of Minnesota attorney Tim Pramas said Friday that the U of M System owns an insurance company ? Regents of the University of Minnesota Insurance Company ? that spreads risk across all five campuses. Miller’s payment, pending any appeals, would come from that source.
“With any insurance company, you invest in such a way that you have a reserve, so if bad news comes in like this there is no immediate hit,” said Pramas, who led the legal team in UMD’s defense.
Miller, the former UMD women’s hockey coach, was awarded the money following an eight-day jury trial in federal court. The jury found that UMD discriminated against Miller on the basis of her sex, and retaliated against her for Title IX complaints she had made, when athletic director Josh Berlo opted against offering her a new contract in 2014.
Pramas said university policy says that whichever unit is part of the case ? in this case UMD’s athletic department ? foots the first $10,000 of any payment.
UMD is in the midst of handling a $5.4 million budget shortfall for the coming year. The university has been in cost-cutting mode for several years, thanks to past enrollment decline and decreases in state funding.
Chancellor Lendley Black wrote in an email to staff Thursday night that he remained in support of Berlo.
“I am incredibly proud of him, the athletics staff, and the student-athletes who have remained focused throughout this time and seen tremendous success in the classroom, competition and community,” he said.
He also noted that UMD was committed to offering a “diverse and inclusive” campus community. He said he “remained confident that our decision was not based on discrimination or retaliation.”
Black acknowledged that some members of the campus community may disagree with his stance, “and I respect that. This is an emotional matter that I take very seriously,” he said.
Pramas said the verdict would lead UMD to re-evaluate some practices, as any matter that ends up in court does.
“We always try to learn how we can do things better,” he said. “We know because we’ve already investigated this thoroughly that this wasn’t an issue where the sex or gender of a coach was a motivation. Nevertheless, the jury told us they thought differently so we have to think about why they thought that.”
The next steps, he said, would probably include filing post-trial motions that seek to overturn the verdict or seek some sort of relief from it.
Miller was awarded nearly $745,000 in past lost wages and $3 million for past emotional distress.
The jury did not award any damages for future emotional distress, and it will be up to U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz to determine if any future lost wages should be added to the $3.74 million. Schiltz said in court Thursday that he intends to schedule a meeting in the coming weeks with attorneys to discuss how the case will proceed.
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