Eleven former University of North Dakota women's hockey players have filed a discrimination lawsuit seeking to reinstate the program that was cut 15 months ago.
The federal complaint filed Tuesday against the North Dakota University System alleges that the university violated Title IX laws that prohibit women from being treated differently because of gender. The suit says the hockey program was "the most prominent and popular sport" among women's athletic programs at the Grand Forks college.
Billie Jo Lorius, spokesman for the university system, and Peter Johnson, spokesman for the university, both declined to comment because the lawsuit is active.
The players are seeking class-action status on behalf of the university's "current, prospective and future female students" affected by dropping the NCAA Division I program.
The suit says there are increasing numbers of young women in North Dakota and throughout the Upper Midwest playing hockey at the high school and club levels.
The Fighting Hawks women's hockey team was ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation in 2016-17, their final season. The team reached the NCAA quarterfinals two straight years when twin sisters and U.S. Olympic stars Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux were on the roster. Several other former Hawks played in the Olympics.
"Many people, when asked to name the first thing that comes into their minds when they are asked about the University of North Dakota, answer 'ice hockey,'" the suit says.
Citing budget woes due to decreased support from the state primarily because of falling oil and crop prices, school president Mark Kennedy had ordered $1.3 million trimmed from athletics in early 2017. Besides women's hockey, the university dropped men's and women's swimming.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights recently dismissed two discrimination complaints related to the decision to drop women's hockey. In one complaint the feds determined that the elimination of the sport was due to the state's financial condition and not discriminatory.