University of Iowa field hockey players file federal complaint about coach's firing

Student-athletes allege gender bias, violation of Title IX rights

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IOWA CITY — Four University of Iowa field hockey players have filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging their Title IX rights were violated when the UI fired coach Tracey Griesbaum in August.

Dani Hemeon, Natalie Cafone, Jessy Silfer and Chandler Ackers lodged the complaint Jan. 28 with the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees Title IX, the 1972 federal law that requires gender equity in educational programs that receives federal funding.

“To fire female coaches for using coaching methods that are exactly the same as methods used by male coaches is gender discrimination,” states the complaint published Thursday by ESPN.com. “This creates harm to the female coach, of course, but it undermines the right of female student athletes to receive a similar experience to male student athletes simply because of their sex and/or the sex of their coach.”

The field hockey program and UI Athletics have been under scrutiny since Aug. 4, when UI Athletic Director Gary Barta fired Griesbaum. A monthslong UI investigation found there were no UI policy violations, but several student-athletes alleged harassment and said they felt pressured to play injured.

These players reported they were reluctant to raise concerns because of Griesbaum’s long-term relationship with Jane Meyer, former senior associate athletics director, according to Elizabeth Altmaier, a UI psychology professor who served as a faculty adviser to athletics from 2001 to 2011. Meyer was reassigned to UI facilities in December because of legal advice that she would be better off outside of athletics if Griesbaum decides to sue the university.

While many UI Field Hockey alumnae have been outspoken in their support of Griesbaum, the civil rights complaint is the first time players have shared their concerns so publicly.

Cafone, a junior from Fairfield, N.J., is considered one of the nation’s best collegiate field hockey players. Hemeon, also a top player, is a senior from Gilroy, Calif. Ackers, from White Haven, Penn., and Silfer, of Cazenovia, N.Y., are both sophomores.

The student-athletes allege they were harmed because the UI investigates complaints of male and female student-athletes differently, uses different standards for investigating female coaches and holds female coaches to higher standards. The firing of six female coaches from 2008 to August “resulted from discriminatory practices” under Barta, the complaint states.

The students say they have asked the UI several times since August to look into whether gender was a factor in Griesbaum’s removal, but UI officials have declined.

“The athletic director has used emotional arguments such as “your coach will be fine,” and have [sic] tried to influence the players by providing them iPads,” the complaint states.

Joe Brennan, the UI’s vice president for strategic communications, said Thursday the UI had not seen the complaint and had no comment.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights, which is under the U.S. DOE, will decide whether to file a Title IX investigation, ESPN.com reported.

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