On June 8, 2016, Angela Nichols filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court alleging that the University of Minnesota-Duluth (“UMD”) discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Minnesota Whistleblower Act.
Nichols was the Director of Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (“GLBT”) Services at UMD for fifteen years. The Complaint describes that Nichols was responsible for providing leadership, support, and education to UMD students, faculty, staff, and the wider community regarding sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and social justice issues. Under Nichols’ stewardship, UMD was recognized by Campus Pride, a non-profit organization, as a top-rated GLBT-friendly campus in 2013 and 2014.
In December 2014, UMD declined to renew the coaching contracts of Shannon Miller, the Head Women’s Hockey Coach, and three other female coaches, all of whom identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Nichols alleges that following UMD’s decision, she made a report to UMD’s administration that she believed that the University had discriminated against the coaches based on their sexual orientation. Nichols, who is openly gay, alleges that members of UMD’s administration made it clear that they did not appreciate Nichols’ complaints of discrimination and statements to the press about the coaches’ terminations, and took actions to discriminate and retaliate against her. Nichols alleges that following her complaints she was stripped of job responsibilities, and that UMD employees were instructed to avoid her. Despite previously interacting with the media independently in her role as Director of GLBT Services, Nichols alleges that after she complained of discrimination, she was told that she needed to obtain prior approval and coaching from other UMD employees before interacting with the media. Nichols alleges that due to UMD’s conduct she began to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and was forced to take a medical leave. When she requested to return to work, Nichols alleges that UMD refused to grant her a reasonable accommodation to change her direct reporting line. Nichols alleges that following continued hostility and retaliation against her, her workplace became intolerable and she was forced to resign.
James H. Kaster, who represents Nichols, stated: “UMD’s conduct restricted Angela’s ability to provide leadership to UMD’s GLBT community and improve the campus climate for GLBT individuals. For Angela, who served as the Director of GLBT Services for fifteen years, UMD’s conduct essentially deprived her of what she regarded as her life’s work.”
Nichols is represented by James H. Kaster, Matthew H. Morgan, and Michelle L. Kornblit of Nichols Kaster, PLLP. The case is entitled, Angela Nichols v. The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota, No.: 27-CV-16-8650 (Hennepin County District Court).