Testimony wraps up in Shannon Miller discrimination case against UMD
Shannon Miller's discrimination case against UMD is just two closing arguments away from heading to the jury.
On the final day of witness testimony, the university called its last witnesses.
UMD's legal team is defending the university against the former women hockey coach's claims the decision not to renew her contract came down to gender discrimination and retaliation.
UMD finished up testimony with their expert witness, forensic economist, Dr. David Jones.
Jones backed up the legitimacy of Athletic Director Josh Berlo's pay per win cost analysis Berlo said he used to come up with a decision regarding Miller's contract. He agreed that's an objective way to evaluate a coach.
Dr. Jones said when measured against other women's coaches, it shows Miller was paid far more per win than those coaches, and while men's coach Scott Sandelin may have a higher pay per win cost, he says it's not fair to compare the two because he's competing against a different field of coaches.
"He can't simply compare directly to Mr. Sandelin because Mr. Sandelin is playing in a different league," Dr. Jones said.
The next witness was Sue MacDonald, who works at UMD as a financial analyst primarily handling budgets with the athletic department.
MacDonald claimed no players, nor the equipment manager for the women's hockey team team, ever came to her saying they had insufficient equipment including stick and skates. Furthermore, she said if they had, it would have been granted regardless of whether the program was over budget.
She also testified, on occasion, the women's team had surplus sticks which were sold at the end of the year.
Abbey Strong, the assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance, gave brief testimony about a conversation between her, Miller and Berlo about a rule change allowing more meal benefits for student athletes. She said Miller chose not to take advantage of the rule, even though she had been told the men's team had.
"This was an allowable benefit that Josh offered the women's team and Shannon declined to use it."
Berlo also returned to the stand to defend himself against previous testimony. He doubled down on his claims that he has never made any sexist remarks to women coaches or student athletes, and expressed his commitment to Title IX.
"I pride myself on professionalism. I pride myself on not talking about other coaches to other coaches," Berlo said. "I found [earlier testimony] hard to listen to."
He said in his exit interview with former player Jamie (Kenyon) Plesha she expressed no concerns regarding equipment, even though she testified to equipment concerns earlier in the trial. He said had those concerns come up, he would have addressed them.
"There would be no reason to create a scenario where you're benefiting one program over another," he said. "There'd be no reason to do that."
The final witness was Kristina D'Allaird, Berlo's assistant. D'Allaird expressed her joy working in the athletic department and for Berlo and said he was one of the best bosses she's ever had.
"It's really exciting to work in a department that has so much going on and you can see the progress every day," she said.
She said she's always experienced respect and support from Berlo, and in her experience, that's what she's seen with other women, female coaches and female student athletes. D'Allaird said she's observed that respect with Miller and women's softball coach Jen Banford, who gave previous testimony to the contrary.
"I would never expect it," she said. "It's inconsistent with his character."
After the university finished their testimony Miller's attorney called Miller herself as well as Banford back on the stand for a rebuttal and for the first time called former equipment manager and strength coach Julianne Vasichek to the stand.
Vasichek testified she came to UMD as a student to play for Miller and the experience exceeded her expectations.
"I have no doubt that because of where I went to school I was offered the best opportunity to make the U.S. national team which my goal," she said.
Vasichek said that's why she was happy to come back to UMD and work under Miller when she graduated in the dual role of strength and conditioning and equipment.
She explained she was originally hired to do those two jobs and work strength and conditioning for the women's basketball team but she said after she and Miller complained numerous times to Berlo her role was reduced to hockey. The university pointed to this testimony to show Berlo did listen and respond to the team's complaints.
Vasichek also testified to issues the team faced ordering equipment. Vasichek claims the men would get their purchase orders but hers seemed not to go through. She said she heard all orders more than $500 were facing extra scrutiny because of budget shortfalls and testified one player's skates were withheld in a university closet.
"From what I understood it was possibly our jobs if the budget wasn't balanced," she said.
She said her team worked through a different financial analyst than MacDonald.
The university countered that pricier orders, when a department is over budget, require pre-approval paperwork and when it went through the skates were released. Vasichek said she couldn't confirm whether or not that was true because she was in the hospital at the time.
The trial resumes Thursday morning with closing arguments from both sides, then the case goes to the 12 jurors to determine whether or not there's enough proof to support Miller's claims.
The jury is made up of four men and eight women.