Former running coach drops lawsuit against University of Minnesota Duluth
Joanna Warmington had been proceeding in state court on claims of sex discrimination, reprisal and creation of a hostile work environment in the University of Minnesota Duluth's academic department.
DULUTH -- Former University of Minnesota Duluth women's cross-country and track and field coach Joanna Warmington has dropped her lawsuit against the school.
Warmington's attorneys filed the stipulation for dismissal in State District Court on Oct. 15, ending a two-year legal battle that also saw a similar suit tossed by a federal judge.
“This has been an incredibly painful process for me — and for all the individuals involved — and it has concluded at the right time to heal and move forward," Warmington said in a statement to the Duluth News Tribune. "I thank Judge (Eric) Hylden for believing in my case, and I thank my attorney Beau McGraw for representing me."
The decision came five months after a judge allowed several of Warmington's claims to proceed to the discovery process ahead of a jury trial that had been scheduled for February.
"We are aware that Ms. Warmington decided to voluntarily dismiss her state court lawsuit," UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams said. "The university continues to stand by our ongoing commitment to ensure the well-being of our student athletes and support them through their academic and athletic endeavors."
Judge Hylden ruled in May that the former coach could proceed on claims of sex discrimination, reprisal and creation of a hostile work environment. The judge did throw out additional claims of negligence and invasion of privacy, and Warmington at that time agreed to drop several other legal claims.
Warmington, who spent 10 seasons at the school, resigned in 2018 after a university investigation resulted in a f inding that she had displayed a pattern of sexual harassment — a process that she claimed was unfair and undertaken with the predetermined intent of firing her due to her vocal support of the equal treatment and funding of women's athletics.
According to documents, Warmington, who was first placed on leave in spring 2018, was given the choice to resign or be fired that August after the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action found that she had violated numerous policies.
Specifically, the EOAA "concluded that Ms. Warmington's conduct was unwelcome because it was unsolicited, made multiple student-athletes feel uncomfortable, and taken together, created an unwelcome sexualized environment in which some student-athletes felt compelled to tolerate unwanted conduct of a sexual nature in order to maintain a positive relationship with their coach."
But Warmington, who filed simultaneous lawsuits in state and federal courts in October 2019, argued the investigation was "clearly biased" and that it served as pretext to eliminate her after Shannon Miller, another longtime women's athletics coach, won a lawsuit against the university for sex discrimination. In December 2019, UMD settled with Miller , agreeing to pay out $4.5 million.
Warmington, 49, claimed she was given inadequate budgets and had to spend her own money on team expenses; that she faced discriminatory comments from a male-dominated athletic department; that she was held to double standards; and that her complaints about inequities went unaddressed.
Attorneys asserted that Warmington was never given an opportunity to examine or refute the allegations against her; that "disgruntled student athletes were allowed to conspire"; and that university administrators leaked out-of-context allegations in an attempt to smear her name and avoid that same controversy that ensued in Miller's case.
Warmington's federal case was dismissed by Judge Eric Tostrud in April 2020, a decision affirmed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2021.
A three-judge panel ruled that the "factual allegations show the university treated Warmington and her teams differently from other coaches and teams. But the complaint, read as a whole, does not plausibly give rise to the inference of discrimination on the basis of sex as the reason for her termination."
The 12-page opinion, authored by Circuit Judge Duane Benton, additionally concluded: "Warmington's allegations, though perhaps describing vile or inappropriate behavior, do not rise to the level of actionable hostile work environment as a matter of law."
UMD's athletic department has been mired in litigation since 2015.
A federal lawsuit filed by one of Warmington's former student-athletes, Paige Du Bois , was dismissed in February 2020. Du Bois claimed she was retaliated against because of her support for Warmington, but Judge Patrick Schiltz called the claims "implausible," saying she "never reported, complained about or in any other way opposed sex discrimination."
Similar claims filed by fellow plaintiffs Jen Banford and Annette Wiles have twice been dismissed by Schiltz. Banford, the former softball coach and women's hockey operations director, is currently pursuing an appeal at the 8th Circuit. Wiles, the former women's basketball coach, did not pursue an appeal of the April ruling.