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Former UND women's hockey players file discrimination suit

North Dakota right wing Ryleigh Houston (12) competes with Minnesota Duluth center Katherine McGovern (17) for the puck. Houston is one of 11 former players suing the North Dakota University System for discrimination over cutting the program. Photo by Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Eleven former members of the now-defunct UND women’s hockey program filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against the North Dakota University System in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

Their goal is to reinstate the program that was cut 15 months ago.

“That’s our No. 1, No. 2 ... all the way to No. 10 goal,” said Dan Siegel, the attorney for the players. “We want the university to start playing women’s ice hockey again.”

Siegel said the players aren’t seeking financial damages outside of covering court costs.

Siegel recently represented former University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller in her successful discrimination lawsuit against the school. Miller was awarded $3.74 million by a jury in March after the school decided not to renew her contract.

Siegel said this case is different because Miller’s was an employment case.

“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 said. “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 spokesman Peter Johnson said that “the University of North Dakota doesn't typically comment on legal actions that are in process.”

UND President Mark Kennedy was in Bismarck on Tuesday meeting with NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

The 11 former players named in the lawsuit are Breanna Berndsen, Kristen Campbell, Charly Dahlquist, Taylor Flaherty, Ryleigh Houston, Anna Kilponen, Rebekah Kolstad, Sarah Lecavalier, Alyssa MacMillan, Annelise Rice and Abbey Stanley.

All were members of the team when the program was cut and had college eligibility remaining. Nearly all of them have since transferred to other schools -- Berndsen to the University of Toronto, Campbell to Wisconsin, Dahlquist to Ohio State, Flaherty to Vermont, Houston to Minnesota Duluth, Kilponen to Quinnipiac, Kolstad to Minnesota State University Mankato, Lecavalier to Robert Morris, MacMillan to the University of Ottawa and Stanley to Boston University. Rice took last year off.

The lawsuit alleges that UND violated Title IX through the selection of sports and level of competition.

Title IX does not require schools to offer particular sports or the same sports, but it requires that schools “effectively accommodate” student interests and abilities.

The lawsuit alleges that UND did not do that when it cut women’s hockey.

This is not the first time UND has faced legal challenges stemming from the elimination of women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.

One former UND athlete filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights after the school cut women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.

Both of those complaints were dismissed last fall.

“That will not affect our suit at all,” Siegel said. “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.”

The UND women’s hockey program, which started in 2002, had five Olympic medalists in February. Grand Forks natives Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando won gold with Team USA, while Michelle Karvinen, Susanna Tapani and Emma Nuutinen won bronze with Finland. UND had eight Olympians in 2014.

The program reached the NCAA tournament twice, losing to Minnesota in the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2013.

In 2013, UND lost to an undefeated Gopher team in triple overtime with a Frozen Four berth on the line.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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