Education

Former UI program director sues school for gender, age discrimination

Pam Ries led REACH program from 2013 to 2017

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

The former director of the University of Iowa REACH program is suing the university for gender, age and pay discrimination after she was fired in 2017 and replaced with a younger man paid more money, according to a petition filed last week.

Pam Ries, 63, led the REACH, or Realizing Educational and Career Hopes, program from 2013 until June 2017, when Dan Clay, dean of the UI College of Education, gave her the choice of retiring from the position or being fired, Ries said in a lawsuit filed Dec. 14 in Polk County.

REACH, started in 2008, is a two-year certificate program for students with disabilities that include autism, intellectual disabilities and learning disabilities. Students get campus-life experience and career preparation in the program that is unique at major public universities in the U.S., the UI reports.

The suit says Clay called Ries in for a meeting June 28, 2017, citing “problems” in the program the previous year without any examples, the suit states.

“At the time she was fired, UI REACH was fiscally sound, well-respected, and the program was growing,” the suit states.

Along with the lawsuit, Ries filed a Feb. 3, 2017, letter UI President Bruce Harreld sent Ries to thank her for her “time and commitment” to REACH, which had just been featured on KCRG-TV9 news.

After demoting Ries to a teaching position that paid $100,000 less, the UI started searching for a new REACH director, the suit states. Ries applied for the position, but was passed over.

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The UI hired Bill Loyd Jr. earlier this year. Ries’s suit says Loyd is younger and less experienced than Ries and is paid $25,000 more than she was paid as REACH director.

The UI discriminated against Ries, the suit states, by firing her because she is an older woman and refusing to investigate a discrimination complaint she made to the UI ombudsman in July 2017. The lawsuit also alleges a violation of Iowa’s equal pay laws because the UI is paying Ries’s male replacement more for substantially the same job duties.

The UI did not have an extensive response to the suit Friday.

“The University of Iowa typically does not comment on matters in litigation,” Spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said in an email.

Ries filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission Nov. 30, 2017, and amended the complaint twice to add new allegations. She obtained a right to sue letter within 90 days of filing the Dec. 14 lawsuit, court records state.

Ries’s lawyer is Jill Zwagerman, a Des Moines attorney who represented Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum, former UI athletics employees who won $6.5 million from the UI in a gender discrimination settlement in May 2017.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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