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DES MOINES — If all goes as scheduled Friday, Jane Meyer will continue her ongoing testimony in the Polk County Courthouse and Gary Barta will give testimony of his own.
If you’re in Iowa City for the spring football game Friday night and think you’re hearing traces of anguish coming from various corners of the UI campus, it may be because harsh things about Hawkeyes or former Hawkeyes were uttered under oath 100 miles away earlier in the day.
No matter the result when former UI senior associate athletics director Meyer’s lawsuit against the university comes to a close in the weeks to come, the university and its athletic department may end up feeling like it was in an MMA fight that went the distance.
Meyer is suing the UI for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and claims of retaliation after she protested when her partner since 2004, Tracey Griesbaum, was fired as the university’s head field hockey coach in 2014 after 14 years in that position.
The primary target of Meyer in the trial is Barta, Iowa’s athletics director since 2006. He fired Griesbaum and, four months later, had Meyer placed on administrative leave. Later, she was reassigned to the UI’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The UI eliminated her $177,000-a-year job there last September, saying there wasn’t money for it after she worked on projects that moved the theater, music and arts programs into new facilities.
Meyer wanted to maintain a high-level position in high-level collegiate athletics, and basically is arguing Barta unnecessarily killed her career.
In Tuesday’s opening statements, Iowa Assistant Attorney General George Carroll said Meyer was not removed from the athletic department because of discrimination, but because she showed open insubordination to Barta and because some coaches, including head football coach Kirk Ferentz and head wrestling coach Tom Brands, found it difficult to work with her.
During Thursday’s testimony by Meyer and Donna Lopiano, a consultant and gender equity expert who was hired as an expert witness hired by Meyer’s side, there were nicks and cuts to Hawkeyes coaches.
Lopiano questioned the UI’s view on nepotism, citing Ferentz hiring his son, Brian Ferentz, as an assistant coach, and son-in-law Tyler Barnes as his recruiting coordinator. She also noted head wrestling coach Tom Brands hired his twin brother Terry Brands as an assistant coach.
It’s not fun for an athletic department to have one of its former athletic directors negatively describe the sideline behavior of head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery in a court of law, or to hear her testify she’d heard McCaffery and Iowa football strength and condition coach Chris Doyle use the “F-word” in coaching situations whereas she’d never heard the same from Griesbaum.
But the gist of the matter is whether the jury decides Barta and the university have discriminated against Meyer, and other female employees in athletics. It’s whether Barta and the UI are viewed to have treated lesbian employees in the athletic department as fairly as everyone else.
Meyer said Thursday that she was removed from the athletic department by Barta because of the threat of Griesbaum suing the university. She was insistent Griesbaum was fired unjustly.
That this case has gotten to trial is a public-relations nightmare in itself for the school. It probably will only get worse.
Meyer has yet to be questioned by Carroll. Barta has yet to be questioned by Meyer’s attorneys. Neither session will be gentle.
Barta and Meyer were accomplished college student-athletes who are highly accomplished adults. And, they’re both determined. Undoubtedly, both believe their actions were right and the other’s wrong in 2014, when the Barta-Meyer professional relationship deteriorated and Meyer’s career in athletics ended.
Today isn’t going to be pretty in that courtroom.