The Miller Verdict; Justice Served? Women Advance

PART 2 of 2

Marc Elliott

DISCLAIMER; the views and opinions contained in this column are those of the writer, not of the DULUTH READER WEEKLY… 

LARSMONT… It has now been a couple of weeks since the verdict came in and I’m imagining that the legal team for UMD is reformulating their positions and constructing an appeal. And in my book, they should. As distasteful as some of the treatment and name calling toward Coach Shannon Miller was, does that in and of itself constitute discrimination? Perhaps it would qualify as a potential “hostile work environment” case, but that’s not what this was about. I’m not a lawyer but I would think not. Neither was I on the jury, nor have I read the court transcripts. I have to TRUST that Miller’s legal team proved to the jury that she was discriminated against. Considering that, did the school ever state to her “we have decided to pay you less because you’re a woman”? Did the school inform her that the Men’s hockey team got more or different workout equipment because they were men and you aren’t? Because to me these are the kind of legal standards that would have had to have been met to proceed with and win a case like this. It has been stated that Miller consistently compared herself to the Men’s team coach Scott Sandelin in terms of pay, won-loss records and the like. 

And as much as I desire to see both sexes treated equally in the workplace I am of the opinion that D1 Men’s and Women’s college hockey are two different worlds and therefore shouldn’t demand equal compensation. This isn’t a man and a woman on the shop floor drilling the same hole into the same metal 40 hours a week. (for which there should be equal pay) It just isn’t. They are two different GAMES. Look, I think that in the first 2/3rd’s of Miller’s tenure at UMD she more then proved herself as a highly competent coach and then the team performance tapered off. But gender aside I don’t think she could have duplicated that in a Men’s program. That’s because they aren’t the same. 

Some dissenters point to women’s hockey attendance in general and UMD’s in particular and the subsequent lower revenues when voicing displeasure with Miller’s compensation which had a base of $207k per season. To me it’s a non-issue, whether at a major University or College, big or small, MOST collegiate sports don’t pay their own way, men’s or women’s. Go ahead and look it up. Depending upon who they are and where they are at, two or three revenue programs always pay the freight at these schools. At one-time Miller was the best in the business, that’s without dispute. So, I don’t have any concern with her compensation. But, the program slowed down, other schools surpassed the Bulldog program and she wasn’t the best anymore. She is currently 6th on the all-time list and is about to be passed by as many as 8 others still in the game within the next 2 to 3 seasons. With the school experiencing budgetary challenges as they had expressed, and with an alleged negative aura-atmosphere in the Athletic department, supposedly created by Miller, apparently those in power, mainly AD Josh Berlo and Chancellor Lendley Black made a decision to not renew Millers about-to-expire contract. And this is where the train exits the rails.

Apparently, they summoned Miller to a meeting whereby she was asked to retire or resign. She refused. At that point Berlo informed her she would not receive a new contract, and then further stated publicly that the decision was financially driven. To my knowledge of employment and contractual law (admittedly limited) this is the only place in which Berlo erred. The school was more then within their rights to not renew, and if they desired to state why, could have pointed to a decline in team performance, which men’s coaches are continually judged upon and dismissed for, and if my knowledge is correct, the school was not obligated to inform Miller why they wouldn’t renew. At that point, Miller may have been challenged to come up with a discrimination claim against the school.  

Many men’s coaches are in this position on a yearly basis. The performance of their program slips, the school decides not to renew an expiring contract rather then terminate, and the about to be former coach gathers up his belongings, thanks the school and moves on. Most likely, most of them aren’t surrounded by the “stuff” that Miller allegedly is, which could most likely and again, allegedly, be of her own doing. One of the big eyebrow raisers to me in this matter is the speed with which the jury reached a conclusion. I am unaware of the makeup of the jury it should be noted or of a news article that has pointed that out, sorry. But somewhere in my mind I’m thinking this is a very important case with some extreme implications, how could a verdict be reached so quickly? If the jury was seated in deference to Millers legal teams wishes, was it a slanted jury? Was the verdict some sort of conclusive, retributive payback for all the crap Miller has probably endured solely due to being a gay woman? I simply don’t know. 

The $750k received for lost wages and benefits in my mind, if Berlo hadn’t of erred, would have never had to be paid out. Her contract would have expired and… poof. The $3mil for “emotional stress”? Certainly, having an employment disruption can be unnerving, been there, done that. To me, it’s just another life road bump. You adjust, pull yourself up and get going again. But $3mil? I can’t see it and if Miller had simply been told she wouldn’t be renewed with no additional dialogue I don’t think UMD would have been on the hook here. 

In the end I hope UMD appeals, wins and this award is stricken down, unless I find out that Coach Miller really WAS discriminated against, then I’ll stand with her any day, anywhere. I’m not certain that was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I just DON’T know. I am probably revealing myself to much criticism and derision, I’ll have a debate with anyone so long as it has intelligence attached. I’ll be called names and “anti-woman” for sure, my Grandma in heaven, who painted Tanks in WWII will be laughing at you. Women in my family have always worked, and have always had my support, and if you are on the side of what’s right, you would as well. So, has justice been served? I’m not sure it has been. Are women advanced by this verdict? I fear that due to the way the world works this will only make some reconsider their next hire if that person is female and gay… PEACE