Jane Meyer trial: Plaintiff attorneys rest case, University of Iowa's defense to begin Friday

Tracey Griesbaum closes out testimony, highlights 'unfair' firing, effect Meyer's reassignment had

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DES MOINES — Eight days of testimony raising doubts about the University of Iowa athletic department’s leadership ended Thursday with a witness breaking down on the stand, recalling her disbelief at being fired in 2014 as field hockey coach.

Attorneys for former UI senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer rested their case in her lawsuit against the university asserting gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

Attorneys for the UI are set to begin their response Friday morning.

The plaintiff’s team sought to prove the UI and Department of Athletic Director Gary Barta forced Meyer out of her job as an administrator both because she’s a woman and because she’s in a same-sex relationship with Tracey Griesbaum, the former field hockey coach.

Attorneys Tom Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman have called among their witnesses a who’s who of current or former Hawkeye athletic leaders, including Meyer, Barta, women’s basketball Coach Lisa Bluder and, on Thursday afternoon, Griesbaum.

A central focus of Barta’s more than three days of testimony — and, indeed, the trial itself — was his justification for firing Griesbaum and transferring Meyer to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where her job was eliminated.

With Griesbaum, Barta testified he made a “very difficult decision” to fire her after hearing of complaints from student-athletes about her bullying and mistreating them, though a UI investigation found there was no policy violation.

Barta testified he made the call because “she said she would not change, and because behavior was so egregious, even though they couldn’t be proven.”

Thursday, Griesbaum flatly denied that she refused to change.

“No, that’s not true,” she testified. “I don’t think that’s healthy. I’ve never had that outlook on anything. In my personal and professional life, I’m always changing.

“Coaches get older and athletes stay the same age. You constantly have to change.”

Much of the plaintiff’s case has focused on Barta’s motives in pursuing an investigation into Griesbaum, and whether that influenced his treatment of her and Meyer.

Griesbaum was the second to last witness called, taking the stand after former UI Director of Employee and Labor Relations Josephine Bathke, who co-authored a report of the investigation into the Griesbaum allegations.

Bathke testified Thursday morning with questions from Newkirk heavily focused on the timing, process and standards by which she and Stevenson-Earl conducted the investigation into the Griesbaum allegations for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. Newkirk spent much of her time on the stand digging into whether or not those standards were uniform to all athletic departments or if they were specific to what Barta’s vision or feelings for the program would be.

The report included specific allegations against Griesbaum made by student-athletes and parents, but found there were no policy violations. It did make recommendations to Barta about possible changes to address concerns over communication.Bathke testified Thursday there was pressure from nearly every quadrant to complete the investigation and report. There was pressure from Barta, Griesbaum and parents, all seeking answers, she said.

When the investigation concluded and the report indicated there were no policy violations on Griesbaum’s part, the longtime field hockey coach said she thought that was the end of it.

Instead, on Aug. 4, 2014, Griesbaum was fired without cause and given a $200,000 buyout.

Griesbaum broke down on the witness stand discussing her reaction in that meeting with Barta.

“I said how unfair it was; kept asking why,” Griesbaum said. “I repeated over and over — probably three times, ‘What have I done wrong?” because before all of that, he praised my work and said I was one of the coaches he wanted to keep. It just seemed very unfair and very discriminatory.”

Griesbaum also told of the effects of Meyer’s reassignment in late 2014 and then termination from the UI in 2016.

She detailed physical, emotional and mental effects on Meyer that included “stomach issues, headaches, migraines,” and that “she’d isolate herself when she wasn’t working.”

Another focus of the plaintiff’s case was when Barta might have learned of the Griesbaum-Meyer relationship. Barta admitted hearing rumors in 2011, but confirmed the relationship after a news story in 2014.

Griesbaum testified the relationship was one of the first questions asked in the investigation. She and Meyer have questioned its relevancy, since Meyer was not Griesbaum’s supervisor.

The Meyer team’s case also cited instances of male coaches and players being treated differently from their female counterparts.

Griesbaum testified to that as well, saying she felt Barta wanted female coaches who “weren’t necessarily effective but were peaceful,” and a team in which “no one brought a complaint forward.”

Meyer is seeking lost wages of nearly $1 million, plus emotional damages, in Polk County District Court.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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