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Amended Lawsuit Adds More Plaintiffs to University of Montana Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

— August 20, 2021

University of Montana and Montana University System recently came under fire in a lawsuit over allegations of gender discrimination.

A Title IX lawsuit was recently filed against the University of Montana and Montana University System over allegations of gender discrimination and harassment. Now, the lawyers involved are seeking class-action status after more women stepped forward with similar allegations.

Brown gavel on grey wooden surface; image by Wesley Tingey, via
Brown gavel on grey wooden surface; image by Wesley Tingey, via

The amended complaint was filed Thursday in federal court in Missoula. It is requesting that “female employees employed by the university at any point since 2013 who have experienced harassment, retaliation or discrimination based on sex, who were forced to resign, had their position terminated, or had limited options for professional growth” be allowed to join the suit. It also alleges that gender-based discrimination is alive and well at UM and MUS.

However, Dave Kuntz, a UM spokesperson, pushed back against the claims and said, “We don’t believe this matter’s eligible for class action certification.”

What happened, though? What were the events that prompted the suit in the first place? For starters, the original complaint was filed earlier this month by plaintiffs Catherine Cole, Barbara Koostra, Mary-Ann Sontag Bowman, and Rhondie Voorhees. Additionally, the complaint cites “John Doe defendants 1-50, though does not further identify the individuals.”

The complaint “described a ‘good ‘ol boys club atmosphere fostered by UM President Seth Bodnar where women were questioned, belittled, and retaliated against.” Attorneys Hillary Carls and Sherine Blackford of Blackford Carls P.C. in Bozeman are representing the plaintiffs.

According to attorneys for the plaintiffs, “none of the additional 18 women who have contacted the plaintiffs or their legal counsel are identified, but the amended complaint states that they are aware of at least six other women who share experiences of the defendants’ harassing, discriminatory and retaliatory conduct.” The complaint states:

“Defendants’ culture of retaliation and intimidation against women who speak out continues today…Defendants’ disingenuous attempts to discredit the named plaintiffs directly threatens and discourages other potential plaintiffs from joining this lawsuit. Understandably, many women fear publicly joining this lawsuit because of these threats, which makes joinder of all class members impracticable.”

Shortly after the original suit was filed, UM and MUS issued a joint statement:

“We look forward to vigorously defending our institutions in court. The University of Montana is committed to providing a working and learning environment that is free from all forms of discrimination.”

Kuntz also noted that UM has implemented a new initiative designed to “create a safe campus for all women, an empowering environment where women embrace their potential and effect change, and a system of support that accelerates students’ careers and lives of impact.” He added:

“We’ve invested a lot of resources to make sure that we have a safe campus through that Title IX and Equal Opportunity office, making sure they have the resources they need to help reduce discrimination, both in our learning environment and working environments.”


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