DES MOINES — Dozens of University of Iowa student-athletes complained about verbal and mental abuse, with some even saying they experienced physical or sexual abuse in their time at Iowa, according to testimony Wednesday in a civil case brought by a former UI athletics administrator.
Jane Meyer, a former UI associate athletics director who worked for the department from 2001 to 2014, is suing her former employer for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, as well as claims of retaliation after she complained when her longtime partner, Tracey Griesbaum, was fired in August 2014 as the UI’s head field hockey coach.
UI Athletics Director Gary Barta has said he fired Griesbaum because several student-athletes complained she was verbally abusive and pressured them to compete when injured. This was despite a UI report saying Griesbaum violated no UI policies.
In a fourth day on the stand, Barta was asked Wednesday to review a 2013-14 report summarizing anonymous exit surveys by student-athletes that showed 27 reported they were verbally abused and 28 said they were mentally abused.
“There were some student-athletes in other sports alleging physical and even sexual abuse, right?” Meyer’s attorney, Tom Newkirk, asked.
“Yes,” Barta said.
“Did you investigate whether in any of the allegations there may be something beyond verbal abuse?” Newkirk asked.
“No,” Barta said, adding that the survey was anonymous, which made it hard to investigate.
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But Associate Athletics Director Fred Mims had the name-specific surveys and Barta could have drilled down, Newkirk persisted.
“I did not check with Fred, but I suspect I could have,” Barta said.
George Carroll, an assistant Iowa Attorney General representing the UI in this case, noted the survey did not specify whether alleged the abuse happened in athletics or in some other area of student life.
Newkirk raised a contradiction between Barta’s testimony earlier this week — that Griesbaum, when confronted with players’ allegations, refused to change her coaching style. Newkirk pointed out Wednesday Barta’s notes from a meeting with Griesbaum before she was fired in which Barta noted Griesbaum said she felt like she was getting “mixed messages” but that she would try to do better in the future.
Two key issues in Meyer’s trial are whether Barta transferred her out of Athletics in December 2014 because she is gay, and whether she should have told Barta about her relationship with Griesbaum.
UI Head Women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder was called to the stand for five minutes. She said Barta knew Assistant Women’s Coach Jan Jensen is married to a woman and was welcoming to the couple.
Sue Buckley, who served 14 years as the UI’s vice president for human resources before retiring in July 2015, testified about meeting with Meyer in 2012 to discuss whether Meyer’s and Griesbaum’s relationship qualified as nepotism.
“Typically, it’s two employees who are in what is perceived as a very close relationship, usually marriage or by blood or adoption, but it could even be employees with an active business partnership,” Buckley said. “Most importantly, one has to be the supervisor of the other — hiring, firing, evaluations, directing the day to day interactions of one another. All of these things have to exist for there to be a conflict.”
Jill Zwagerman, another of Meyer’s attorneys, asked Buckley if the relationship would have been considered a conflict of interest needing a management plan.
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“It was absolutely clear to me it did not fall under the plan,” Buckley said. “There was not a supervisory relationship.”
Carroll, on cross examination, asked Buckley whether she talked with Meyer about her role governing athletic facilities and her supervision of some employees who worked with field hockey. Buckley said she did not remember what specific questions she asked, but that she did probe the women’s roles in athletics.
When Zwagerman asked whether Meyer had a responsibility to tell Barta about the relationship, Buckley said “none whatsoever.”
Griesbaum is expected to testify Thursday in the trial in Polk County.