A former Minnesota running coach who says the University of Minnesota-Duluth forced her into resignation has now filed a wrongful termination case against the University’s official leadership. In addition to wrongful termination, the coach also raised several other allegations based on sex and gender discrimination, including allegations of unequal pay and a hostile work environment.
The woman had coached both cross country and track and field at the school for about a decade. At the time of her resignation, she had been placed on leave. She claims that her resignation was at the behest of the University’s leadership, who indicated that they would initiate a publicized, and potentially embarrassing, disciplinary process if she refused to do so.
For their part, the school has implied that the coach is a perpetrator, and not a victim, of sexual harassment. From an internal review, she was accused of physically touching some of the athletes who trained under her in a way that made the athletes feel uncomfortable. The coach has denied improper conduct and indicated that the internal investigation into her behavior was unfair.
In her lawsuits, the woman says that the University’s action against her was because she was an outspoken advocate of equal treatment for female athletes and for the funding of women’s athletic programs. She indicated that the University forced her to resign so as to make room for a coach who would be more willing to overlook the University’s unlawful actions.
In her cases, the coach is requesting compensation for lost pay, attorney fees, and emotional distress. The University has said that it does not think her litigation will be successful.
This story illustrates that employers, including public universities that really should know better, will sometimes go to great length to discredit and dismiss an employee who insists that the company do the right thing. While the outcome of this lawsuit remains to be seen, Minnesota workers who feel they have been fired for speaking up do have legal options available to them.