Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Fighting The Good Fight

The loss of the University of North Dakota's women's hockey team is still, at its best, tragic. Financial shortfalls in North Dakota forced the state-funded university to slash its budgets across the board, and it was noticeably felt through the UND Athletics Department when the entire women's hockey program was cut from existence along with men's and women's swimming. On Tuesday, however, eleven players with two-or-more years of eligibility remaining who were part of the program filed a discrimination lawsuit against the North Dakota University System in an effort to see UND reinstate the program in its entirety.

The 11 former players, as reported by Grand Fords Herald's Brad Elliott Schlossman, include Breanna Berndsen, Kristen Campbell, Charly Dahlquist, Taylor Flaherty, Ryleigh Houston, Anna Kilponen, Rebekah Kolstad, Sarah Lecavalier, Alyssa MacMillan, Annelise Rice, and Abbey Stanley.

They hired Dan Siegel who recently represented former University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey coach Shannon Miller in her discrimination lawsuit that saw her win the case and receive $3.74 million by a jury in March. While the cases differ, Siegel will argue discrimination once more as the lawsuit alleges that the university violated Title IX laws that prohibit women from being treated differently because of gender. As you may recall, men's hockey at UND wasn't touched by the cuts made by the Athletics Department.

Does this lawsuit have merit? I believe it does. And Siegel feels it would be in UND's best interest to come to a resolution before this case ever reaches a courtroom.

"I'm hoping UND would decide to take the right approach to this case and will agree to sit down and see if we can work it out," Siegel told Schlossman. "The sooner we work it out, the sooner the program could be put back to work and the less money UND will spend fighting the case and less money we will spend fighting the case. Hopefully, we can get an early resolution."

UND, of course, will have to weigh their options here as they have their lawyers examine the lawsuit with respect to Title IX laws. The law is pretty clear that "[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity," and the lawsuit filed by the eleven women is alleging, among other discrimination claims, that the university violated the Title IX laws by cutting the prominent program at the school. Again, I think they have merit on this claim.

It should be noted that two complaints that were filed by a UND student last year with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights were both dismissed with one case citing the financial difficulties faced by the school as a factor in the dismissal of the complaint.

"That will not affect our suit at all," Siegel told Schlossman. "The OCR complaints were based on different facts and different legal theories. They didn't pass on the particular claims that we're making in our case."

This case should be very interesting. If Siegel has indeed found a way to argue the Title IX laws that will bring hockey back to UND, that will a huge victory for women's hockey on the whole, but especially in the area where a once-proud franchise would be resurrected. If this lawsuit is dismissed, this might spell the end of UND women's hockey for some time. Clearly, the stakes are fairly high when it comes to these eleven women pushing for a return to the school they all originally planned on attending.

I'll keep an eye on this case because I was and still am a big UND women's hockey fan. Let's hope that a judge or jury finds merit in this lawsuit so we could potentially see UND Fighting Hawks women's hockey back on the ice by 2019-2020 at the very latest!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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