Jane Meyer trial: Athletic Director Gary Barta says she was poisoning the workplace
Coaches 'felt like they were talked down to by Jane,' he testifies
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DES MOINES — A former University of Iowa athletics official, passed over for a prime job and angry over her partner’s firing from the institution, was poisoning the work environment, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta testified Friday.
“Right at that moment, I just needed to get her out of the department,” Barta said. “I had to do something. I could have had her terminated.”
Barta had Jane Meyer transferred from athletics in December 2014 to work on other university facilities, but continued to pay her $177,000 salary until last September, when he quit paying. The UI then eliminated Meyer’s job and let her go.
Meyer, a former UI associate athletics director who worked for the department from 2001 to 2014, is suing the UI for gender and sexual orientation discrimination based on allegations she was transferred and fired because she complained about Barta’s decision in August 2014 to fire her longtime partner, Tracey Griesbaum, as head field hockey coach.
Meyer is seeking lost wages of nearly $1 million, plus emotional damages, in Polk County District Court.
Barta spent most of Friday afternoon on the witness stand, answering questions about the eight years he worked with Meyer.
“I’ve always felt she has a lot of talent and works hard,” Barta said, adding that the first five years of their working relationship were fairly smooth.
This was despite ongoing jockeying for position between Meyer, who was No. 2 on the organizational chart, and Fred Mims, who had the most experience in the department. Other employees, including Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz, Head Wrestling Coach Tom Brands and Chris Doyle, football strength and conditioning coach, expressed frustration about working with Meyer, Barta said.
“It was a sort of ‘my way or the highway’ type thing. Saying no, but not saying why,” Barta said. “They felt like they were talked down to by Jane.”
These issues caused Barta to tell Meyer in 2013 she would not be considered for a new deputy athletics director position. After that conversation, “our working relationship changed forever. We had a hard time working together from that day forward because of a change in her attitude,” Barta said.
He ultimately hired Gene Taylor as deputy athletics director at an annual salary of $245,000 — considerably more than Meyer at the time.
Barta said he’d heard rumors as soon as 2011 that Meyer and Griesbaum were dating, but he didn’t know for sure until fall 2014, when the women were interviewed about their relationship in a newspaper article. If he’d known, Barta said he would not have allowed Meyer to make decisions about new field hockey facilities in the mid-2000s, he said.
“Even though the university said there wasn’t a conflict, I believed there was,” Barta said.
Meyer said she didn’t tell Barta about her relationship with Griesbaum because she didn’t feel comfortable.
“I come from a time of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” Meyer said. “My relationship was very personal to me. If I talked about it, my chances of being an athletic director were out the window.”
Ultimately, it was the lawsuit that has reduced her job options, she said.
Meyer testified she has applied for seven athletics jobs, including interim athletics director at Cornell College, but received no offers.
“I’ve received three interviews at very small Division 1 programs and Division 3 programs because that’s all the interest I’ve had,” she said.
“Do you believe Mr. Barta ruined you career?” asked Assistant Iowa Attorney General George Carroll, representing the UI.
“I do,” Meyer said. “You have to be working in athletics to be able to advance and I do not have a shot.”
Barta is expected to continue testifying Monday in the trial, expected to last up to three weeks.