Education

Review: University of Iowa anti-harassment policy needs change

Assessment ordered in wake of gender bias finding against the UI

Former University of Iowa head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, left, and former Iowa Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer listen to a question May 22, 2017, as they discuss their discrimination cases against the UI at the office of their Des Moines attorneys. UI President Bruce Harreld ordered an external review of UI personnel policies and practices in the wake of reaching a $6.5 million settlement with the two. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Former University of Iowa head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, left, and former Iowa Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer listen to a question May 22, 2017, as they discuss their discrimination cases against the UI at the office of their Des Moines attorneys. UI President Bruce Harreld ordered an external review of UI personnel policies and practices in the wake of reaching a $6.5 million settlement with the two. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa anti-harassment policy sets too high of a threshold for violations, putting it out of line with state and federal laws and requiring revision, according to an external review of employment policies and practices in the wake of high-profile discrimination findings in the UI Athletics Department.

The Fredrikson & Byron P.A. firm of Des Moines reviewed five university policies along with several specific to the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and found that the university’s existing human rights, sexual harassment, anti-retaliation and violence policies comply with state and federal workplace laws.

As do the Athletics Department policies the firm reviewed that related to, among other things, diversity and inclusion, equal employment and recruitment.

But the firm suggested ways the UI could make those policies more clear and effective. And it determined the UI’s anti-harassment policy “does not accurately communicate what constitutes protected-class harassment in the workplace in compliance with applicable law.”

To violate the UI’s policy now, speech must contain “personally abusive epithets which are inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction;” “a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals;” or “a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.”

The findings cautioned that “the current policy may cause employees to erroneously believe that harassment that falls short of this standard must be tolerated and not reported.”

UI President Bruce Harreld called for the review nearly a year ago after a Polk County jury awarded $1.43 million to Jane Meyer, a former UI associate athletics director who accused the institution of discriminating against her based on gender and sexual orientation. Former UI head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, Meyer’s longtime partner, also sued on similar grounds, and — following the jury award — the UI settled both cases for $6.5 million.

After Harreld’s call for the review, the university appointed a 14-member committee that spent months drafting a request for qualifications, reviewing proposals and selecting a firm.

The committee in November announced it had chosen Fredrickson & Byron. The review eventually will include three phases — the first involving UI athletics, followed by reviews of UI academic and operational units and then UI Health Care.

The initial contract, good through Nov. 2, paid the firm $95,000 — not including expenses — and covered the review of university and athletics policies. The university has paid Fredrickson & Byron $97,575 so far, including expenses for things like travel.

The firm reports its next step will be to “examine how closely the Athletics Department’s practices, in various stages of the employee life cycle, follow university and Athletics Department policies.”

Continuing the scope of the work as initially envisioned will require subsequent contracts.

“The Employment Practices Committee will digest the review and solicit input from campus and then determine next steps,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said in an email. “University leaders anticipate the university will continue to contract with Fredrikson & Byron P.A.”

The firm also suggested periodic anti-harassment training for certain employees and clarification on some of the other compliant policies.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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