After Jane Meyer verdict, UI orders review of employment practices

'Independent' examination to begin with look at athletics department

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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta’s leadership of Hawkeye sports, already the basis of three lawsuits, now is being scrutinized by his own university.

A day after a Polk County jury awarded $1.4 million to former senior Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer in her gender and sexual orientation case against the university, UI President Bruce Harreld announced Friday the school “will hire an independent firm to conduct an external review of university employment practices as defined by the Iowa Civil Rights Act. This review will begin with the UI Athletics Department.”

While Meyer sued the UI, Barta was the focus of her assertions and he spent parts of four days on the witness stand. Meyer’s attorneys, Tom Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman, focused most of their case on his actions in firing former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and then transferring her partner — Meyer — out of athletics into a job that later was eliminated.

Besides the trial that just ended, Meyer also has filed a federal lawsuit expected to go to trial next year and Griesbaum has sued in a case scheduled for a trial next month in Polk County.

Meyer, who spoke Thursday to The Gazette, said she hopes the verdict spurs action in UI athletics.

“I hope they do a full program review, top to bottom, and the university does a self-inspection about what they need to do better,” she said. “I want Iowa to do better.”

Reaction from the community has been mixed, though the verdict has some calling for Barta’s dismissal.

“It warrants new athletic department leadership,” said Kristen Galles, a Cedar Rapids native who now practices civil rights law in Washington, D.C. “Iowa’s apparent practice of forcing out strong women and LGBT coaches while the male coaches behave any way they want without consequence should embarrass the regents.”

Galles, who played volleyball, basketball, track and softball at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, has built a national legal practice representing students, athletes, coaches and teachers in discrimination and retaliation cases. She said an “Old Boys Club” culture is common in university athletics.

“The disrespectful and exclusionary culture is why so few women are in coaching, athletic administration and other athletic department jobs,” she said.

The UI has 12 male head coaches and six female head coaches, according to the UI website.

Men made up nearly 60 percent of all head coaches for 969 women’s teams in Division 1 sports programs, according to a 2014-15 analysis by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and the Alliance of Women Coaches.

Barta signed a five-year contract extension in February 2016. Just before the extension, while Iowa was in California for the Rose Bowl, Harreld threw the full weight of his support behind both Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz, who also was a witness in the trial.

“They are long-term members of our family, and I intend to keep it that way,” Harreld said then, adding the two have “never been on thin ice with me.”

If Barta were to be fired without cause after the end of this academic year, the UI would owe him $2.35 million, his contract stipulates. The buyout clause says Barta is owed two years of base compensation, plus the remainder of his deferred compensation — which would be four years’ worth. He is set to make $550,000 in base pay for 2017-18, then $600,000 from 2018-19 through the rest of his contract. He’ll earn $300,000 per year in deferred compensation from 2018-21.

Barta’s contract also stipulates he can be fired with cause, which would eliminate any money the UI would owe. The factors that are considered “with cause” are spelled out in the contract.

Meyer’s lawsuit accused Barta of treating both Meyer and Griesbaum differently because of their gender and sexual orientation.

Barta testified he reassigned Meyer because their working relationship became untenable after she openly objected to Griesbaum’s firing.

He testified he fired Griesbaum because several student-athletes complained she was verbally abusive and pressured players to compete while injured.

Her ouster came despite a UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity report saying she violated no policies. However, she was fired “without cause” and paid a $200,000 buyout.

Meyer’s attorneys sought to show Barta held a double standard for men and women in regard to allegations against coaches and how those were investigated.

According to testimony, dozens of other UI student-athletes outside field hockey — specifically in volleyball and men’s gymnastics — also complained about verbal and mental abuse.

According to a 2013-14 report summarizing anonymous exit surveys by student-athletes, 27 reported they were verbally abused and 28 said they were mentally abused. Despite that, Barta testified the allegations were not investigated. He said it would be difficult based on anonymity, but conceded he did not check for name-specific surveys “but I suspect I could have.”

Meyer’s attorneys plan to file post-trial motions seeking another $2 million from the UI. The motions will include asking the judge to decide if Meyer should get her job back or pay Meyer for lost wages until she reaches retirement.

Because the jury found the UI’s actions were “willful,” Meyer may ask to have her back pay tripled.

The UI released another statement Friday saying that “the university will not make a decision regarding whether to appeal until post-trial motions have concluded.”

Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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