Opening statements begin in Shannon Miller jury trial - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Opening statements begin in Shannon Miller jury trial

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DULUTH, MN -

Jury trial is underway for former women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller’s case against UMD.

The jury is weighing whether the university discriminated against Miller as a woman or retaliated against her for complaints when they chose not to renew her contract. 

On Tuesday afternoon, both sides had the chance to address the jury for the first time, and Miller's legal team gave the first opening statement. 

Her attorney Dan Siegel focused on Miller’s success as a coach, such as her five national championships, winning record and the fact her team was ranked 6th in the nation when her contract was not renewed.

"Her performance was fine," he said. "It was excellent that no sane person would expect any athletic team even the New York Yankees to win the championship every single year."

They claimed when athletic director Josh Berlo was hired, he began a “purging” of women’s coaches, and they brought up Miller’s history of complaints of limited resources and unfair treatment.

They also said UMD claimed the decision was financial then doubled back and said it was performance based. 

"I took Josh Berlo's deposition about a little more than a year ago and he said it had nothing to do with money," he said. "That he wouldn't have kept Shannon as head hockey coach if she had agreed to work for $80,000." 

UMD denied any claims of discrimination. They said Miller’s record slipped at the time of her dismissal and was not winning against their rivals.

According to one of the attorneys representing UMD, Jeanette Bazis, Miller was the highest paid women’s hockey coach at the time and Chancellor Lendley Black and Athletic Director Josh Berlo agreed they weren’t getting a good return on their investment especially given UMD's financial deficit.

"[Berlo and Black] made a decision that was particularly intense because the budget deficit put a microscope on those making six figures," she said.

That included Miller who Bazis claimed was making $215,000 at the time of her dismissal.

Bazis also claimed Berlo had given Miller ample warnings regarding the team's performance but when the December 9th meeting came along and Berlo and Black announced Miller's contract would not be renewed, she said they played up finances so as not to embarrass Miller. 

Following opening statements, Miller's attorneys called on their first two witnesses.

The first witness was former chancellor Kathryn Martin, who recruited Miller to start the women's hockey program at UMD. She spoke to her pride in the program, her respect for Miller and her commitment to ensure women's programs and women coaches were treated equitably at UMD.

"It's hard to testify against an institution I hold in the highest regard, but I find it important to defend equity for women," she said.

In their cross examination, university attorney Tim Pramas, asked Martin about men's hockey coach Mike Sertich who left in 2000, during Martin's tenure after the hockey program failed to meet expectations.

Martin said at the time she supported her athletic director's decision at the time not to renew his contract but reminded Pramas, Sertich, though he brought UMD to the national championship once and lost in quadruple over time, he never won a championship.

Before court let out for the day, Miller's attorney Don Mark, Jr. began questioning their second witness, Chancellor Lendley Black. 

Mark questioned Black about his reasoning for dismissing Miller and his communication with her prior to the decision not to extend her contract. He focused on Miller's complaints from limited resources for her team to threatening and inappropriate notes directed at her.

According to the testimony Miller also told Black repeatedly that she was having trouble recruiting players because she didn't know whether or not her contract would be renewed.

Black also testified it could be reasonable for Miller to expect a renewal given their communication leading up to the non-renewal, but he told her finances were the number one pressure on the athletic department.

Wednesday, Mark will finish questioning Black and the university will do cross examine him before Miller's team calls its next witness. 

According to Siegel, their witness testimony is expected to last a few more days and will include Josh Berlo, former UMD players, and UMD coach Scott Sandelin.

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