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Women coaches are fighting discrimination and winning

Because Wisconsin and Minnesota are neighbors and sometimes friendly rivals, we share natural resources, an upper Midwest culture, industries, weather and more. So we recently read with an interest a story about gender discrimination and retaliation in Minnesota. The issues don’t stop at our shared border, of course.

The article in a Minneapolis newspaper details the struggles women coaches across the country continue to have in male-dominated athletics. A number of female coaches have filed lawsuits to stop discrimination, only to see their careers derailed while the men heading those athletics departments prosper. Some might consider the article depressing, but from our perspective, it offers real hope that change is happening and additional positive advancement is on its way.

Outspoken University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey Shannon Miller won five NCAA championships at the school before it fired her in 2014. She recently hit back hard, however, when she and her employment law attorney prevailed in her federal discrimination lawsuit. After a Duluth trial, the jury awarded her $3.74 million on her claims that the school engaged in gender discrimination against her and retaliated against her after she complained.

The athletic director who oversaw her firing has received raises and accolades since, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The school’s chancellor stated that he disagreed with the verdict and that he is “incredibly proud” of the athletic director.

Miller’s story is echoed in other discrimination cases, including Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and San Diego State basketball coach Beth Burns. Both lost their jobs, sued the schools and received at least $1.5 million.

All are struggling to get their careers back on track, however.

Three-time national champion rugby coach Becky Carlson said there are at least 50 more female coaches across the country in “nearly identical situations to Miller."

But Michigan’s Hall of Fame softball coach Carol Hutchins says there’s light at the end of the tunnel. She said Miller didn’t just win in court for herself: “she won for all women coaches.” Hutchins said the fight must go on. "As more women who are treated unfairly come forward, and win lawsuits, you're going to see more administrations on notice."

Discrimination and retaliation can be stopped. A lawsuit serves notice on those engaging in improper behavior on those who might one day occupy positions of influence and power.

Contact a skilled employment law attorney about your situation and to learn more about your legal options. 

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