DES MOINES — The University of Iowa says it fired a former associate athletics director not because she’s a woman or gay, but because she angered coaches, including Hawkeye Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz.
“Coach Ferentz said ‘We can’t work with her,’” said George Carroll, an assistant Iowa Attorney General defending the UI in an employment discrimination trial this week in Polk County. “He wasn’t the only one.”
Jane Meyer, a former UI associate athletics director who worked for the department from 2001 to 2014, is suing her former employer for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, as well as claims of retaliation after she complained when her longtime partner, Tracey Griesbaum, was fired in August 2014 as the UI’s head field hockey coach.
A jury of five women and five men was seated for the trial that could last up to three weeks.
Although the UI has defended Athletic Director Gary Barta’s decision to transfer Meyer out of athletics in December 2014, Carroll’s opening statements Tuesday were the first detailed explanation given of why Meyer lost her athletics job.
“While Ms. Meyer did an outstanding job in many areas, over time issues arose with her communications style and issues with others — essentially with coaches over facilities,” Carroll said.
He said Ferentz will testify he asked Meyer to provide him with a graphic of what they wanted a renovated Kinnick Stadium to look like so he could show potential donors. The graphic Meyer delivered was late and didn’t meet his standards, Carroll said.
“It’s a simple task that Ms. Meyer didn’t do,” Carroll said.
In another case, Meyer told Head Wrestling Coach Tom Brands he couldn’t enter a construction site at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which Carroll said resulted in problems with the final renovation. She also embarrassed a track coach by saying, in front of others, he didn’t need to attend a facilities meeting, Carroll said.
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After all this, Meyer yelled at Barta in a staff meeting Aug. 4, 2014, when he announced his decision to fire Griesbaum, who some student-athletes allege was verbally abusive and controlling.
“This wasn’t standing up for equity in sports, this was open insubordination to her boss,” Carroll said.
Tension in the department followed Meyer’s outburst, and Barta already had been planning to transfer Meyer when she filed a formal complaint with him Dec. 4, 2014, about gender discrimination, Carroll said. Within days, Meyer was transferred from athletics, never to return.
Tom Newkirk, one of Meyer’s attorneys, said in opening statements they will show she had a stellar record for more than a decade, and issues did not arise until Barta got complaints about Griesbaum’s treatment of student-athletes and about Meyer’s and Griesbaum’s relationship.
Joe Kearney, associate dean for research and infrastructure in the UI’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, testified Meyer was efficient, organized and easy to work with on facilities issues following the 2008 flood and again in 2015 when Meyer was transferred to his college.
“This involved a very complicated series of moves, acquisition of new equipment,” Kearney said. “Jane was kind of the glue that held all that together.”
Still, once the theater, music and arts programs moved into new facilities, there wasn’t money for Meyer’s $177,000 job, Kearney said. The UI eliminated it Sept. 9.
Newkirk highlighted glowing performance evaluations by former Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby, who hired Meyer in 2001, and a review by one of her subordinates, Terry Noonan, director of athletic training services. In June 2014, as Barta’s professional relationship with Meyer was deteriorating, Noonan said Meyer was “straightforward” and had “one of the most optimistic attitudes” of anyone with whom he’d worked, according to an exhibit presented at trial.
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Newkirk grilled Kevin Ward, associate vice president for human resources, for close to three hours Tuesday about the UI’s policies prohibiting discrimination and outlining procedures to guard against nepotism.
Newkirk asked Ward whether the Athletic Department had asked Ward’s office to investigate whether Ferentz, Brands or Fred Mims, a now-retired associate athletics director, had hired their own family members before plans were in place to manage possible conflicts.
“I don’t believe so,” Ward said.
On the other hand, Newkirk said, Meyer’s relationship with Griesbaum was included as part of an investigation into the field hockey team even though their nonsupervisory relationship did not trigger nepotism policies.
Meyer is expected to testify Wednesday, followed by Barta on Thursday.