Jane Meyer trial: Iowa AD Gary Barta defends firing of Tracey Griesbaum, Meyer reassignment

Meyer's attorneys question Barta on his knowledge of Meyer and Griesbaum's relationship

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DES MOINES — University of Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta continued his testimony Monday in the trial for former UI senior associate athletics director Jane Meyer’s lawsuit against UI for gender and sexual discrimination.

At issue Monday was the timeline for Barta’s knowledge of Meyer and former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum’s personal relationship and how that correlated to Jane Meyer’s performance reviews, position within and ultimately removal from the athletics department as a senior associate athletic director.

Meyer’s attorney, Tom Newkirk, spent the morning continuing to dig into multiple aspects of what Barta knew about the Meyer/Griesbaum relationship, including when he acknowledged “rumors” of the relationship, as well as his treatment of allegations against coaches for men’s sports compared to Griesbaum’s.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General George Carroll, representing the UI, began his questioning of Barta in the afternoon and went into Barta’s motives and reasoning behind the firing of Griesbaum and ultimate reassignment of Meyer four months after Griesbaum’s firing.

“It came down to having worked with (Meyer) for seven-plus years and watching a breakdown in trust with some of our coaches, people on campus, as well as me specifically,” Barta said Monday. “I had come to the conclusion I couldn’t trust her in that role.”

Meyer’s attorney, Tom Newkirk, challenged Barta on differences between performance reviews before he was made aware of what he considered rumors of the Meyer-Griesbaum relationship.

Barta reiterated his testimony from Friday in which he acknowledged hearing rumors in 2011 of their relationship, but only confirmed it after reading a story about it in 2014. He said Monday he didn’t dig into those rumors because he didn’t want to ask a question of that nature not based in fact.

“Our relationship for first five years or so was very good,” Barta said. “There were issues, but then things began to change over time.”

Barta fired Griesbaum on Aug. 4, 2014 following a two-month-long independent investigation into allegations of player mistreatment and abuse. Barta said Monday he felt there were three major factors that went into that decision.

The field hockey season was impending and he knew if she was to be terminated there would be a logistical snag in replacing Griesbaum. Monday brought the most specific allegation from a former player, who said Griesbaum told her “If I were you, I’d kill myself.” Barta said that fit with the consistent, specific allegations from multiple players. When confronted with the allegations, Barta said Griesbaum refused to change her coaching style. Her refusal ultimately became the third and final factor.

Compared to investigations into football and men’s gymnastics player treatment allegations, Barta said the difference in coaches not being fired came down to commitment to changes as well as the pattern of allegations.

Carroll’s questioning of Barta ultimately focused on the deterioration of Meyer’s standing within the athletics department. Barta discussed Meyer not receiving the promotion to Deputy Athletics Director under Barta’s reorganization of the department, and how Meyer began to question, criticize and work less fluidly with him than before.

The biggest issue Barta cited, though, was Meyer’s behavior in a senior staff meeting to discuss Griesbaum’s firing. It was that day — Aug. 4, 2014 — that Barta said Monday irreparably damaged his and Meyer’s working relationship.

Barta acknowledged Monday that Meyer was the only staff member to outwardly object to Griesbaum’s firing, and detailed her reaction in that senior staff meeting as well as a private meeting between the two that followed.

Barta testified Monday that “generally (what she said) was, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t fire one of our most successful coaches.’” Barta described her reaction as “loud, and if you can describe anger, it was angry.”

He added he felt her reaction was “troubling,” because “she didn’t have all the information I had,” and felt it was inappropriate. A conversation in her office later that day went similarly, Barta said.

Barta testified Meyer openly questioned his integrity in that closed-door meeting, saying, she said “‘You say do it right, but you don’t do it right.’”

From there, Barta said the period between Aug. 4 and Meyer’s reassignment within the UI on Dec. 5, 2014 was “almost non-communicative, argumentative; constantly questioning everything we were doing.”

“My working relationship (with Meyer) was ... antagonistic; caustic,” Barta said. “There was a lack of trust.

“I had to get her out of the department.”

Meyer is seeking lost wages of nearly $1 million, plus emotional damages, in Polk County District Court.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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