Finding the University of Iowa discriminated against a former athletics administrator based on her gender and sexual orientation, a Polk County jury Thursday awarded Jane Meyer $1.43 million, according to her legal team.
Meyer, 57, a former UI associate athletics director who worked for the department from 2001 to 2014, sued the UI, the Iowa Board of Regents and the state for discrimination. She also alleged the UI retaliated against her when she complained about the Aug. 4, 2014, firing of her longtime partner, Tracey Griesbaum, as the UI’s head field hockey coach.
“This is much bigger than me,” Meyer said in a phone interview with The Gazette. “This is for anyone who has faced discrimination anywhere to stand up and say ‘What is going on is wrong.’ Stand up and point it out because this stuff should not be happening to women, gays, people of color — anyone.”
The jury of five women and three men returned with a unanimous verdict before 3:30 p.m. after deliberating for more than eight hours, according to Meyer’s attorneys, Jill Zwagerman and Tom Newkirk.
The jury found in favor of Meyer on all five of her claims: gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation, equal pay violation and whistleblower violation, the law firm reported.
The UI released a short statement Thursday: “The university is disappointed by the jury’s decision.”
When asked whether the UI planned to appeal, spokeswoman Jeneane Beck declined to comment further.
The verdict was delivered in a sealed envelope to the judge, so there was no announcement in open court. The paperwork had not yet been posted on Iowa Courts Online by Thursday evening, but Zwagerman said Judge Michael Huppert called the attorneys involved with the news.
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Meyer was required to prove her case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal cases. Preponderance of the evidence means a plaintiff’s case must be more convincing than not for jurors to decide in her favor.
During the high-profile trial, dozens of witnesses painted a picture of a Hawkeye athletic department in conflict.
Witnesses included Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, Football Coach Kirk Ferentz, Wrestling Coach Tom Brands, Baseball Coach Rick Heller and women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder, among others.
Meyer said Barta had a double standard for male and female coaches, couldn’t tolerate opposition and failed to investigate Meyer’s complaints about gender equity.
Several of the UI witnesses said the conflict in the department actually was caused by Meyer, and ended when Barta transferred her out in December 2014.
Meyer was shifted to a position in UI facilities, but her job was eliminated Sept. 9.
“These are really hard to win,” Newkirk said of sexual orientation and gender discrimination lawsuits. He called the verdict a “landmark” that would pave the way for other women.
The $1.43 million award includes $374,000 in lost wages, $444,000 for past emotional stress and $612,000 for future emotional stress.
Meyer’s attorneys plan to file post-trial motions seeking another $2 million from the UI, Zwagerman said. These will include a motion asking the judge to decide whether the UI should give Meyer her job back or pay Meyer “front pay” for lost wages until she reaches retirement.
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Because the jury found the UI’s actions were “willful,” Meyer may ask to have her back pay tripled.
The UI Athletic Department’s budget this year is more than $100 million, none of it funded with taxes or tuition.
The verdict may affect a second employment discrimination lawsuit filed against the UI by Griesbaum, Newkirk said. That case is scheduled for trial June 5 in Polk County.
Meyer also has a federal lawsuit against the UI alleging her First Amendment rights were violated. That trial is set for June 2018.
Meyer and Griesbaum have moved to Des Moines, Meyer testified earlier this week. Unable to get other athletics jobs, Meyer said she’s applied for jobs at Lowe’s and Home Depot.
“I don’t know what my future is,” she had said Tuesday.
Two days later, she said hopes the verdict would help her return to athletics.
“I’m willing to work with anyone who wants to create an environment in athletics that is striving for male and female equality,” she said.
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