Higher education

Fired University of Iowa field hockey coach sues school

Tracey Griesbaum claims gender and sexual-orientation discrimination

Tracey Griesbaum.
Tracey Griesbaum.

IOWA CITY — Former University of Iowa women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum is suing the UI and the state for gender discrimination after she was fired in August 2014.

Griesbaum, who was head coach for 14 years, is seeking reinstatement to her position as well as lost earnings and damages in a 26-page lawsuit filed Monday in Polk County District Court.

The suit claims gender bias within the UI Athletic Department causes a double standard by which female coaches must monitor their language and worry about keeping students and their parents happy, while male UI coaches are allowed to “yell, curse, threaten, throw things, be ejected from games and push student athletes to the edge of their abilities even if it sometimes results in injury.”

UI Athletics Director Gary Barta fired Griesbaum Aug. 4, 2014, after a UI investigation reported several field hockey players complained Griesbaum had been verbally abusive and pressured them to compete while injured.

Mistreatment reported by some student athletes includes Griesbaum allegedly calling a student athlete stupid; telling a student athlete, “If I were you, I would kill myself”; having a student athlete practice alone; and allowing “call out” meetings that hurt team morale, according to a five-page summary of a UI investigation that preceded Griesbaum’s firing.

Investigators found insufficient evidence to show a violation of university policy.

Griesbaum denied the accusations and other student athletes could not substantiate them to investigators. Hundreds of former players and coaches have written letters to the UI and posted messages online in support of Griesbaum, describing her coaching style as tough but fair.

The lawsuit claims Barta undermined or forced out other female coaches, including those who were gay.

“Gary Barta has a history of terminating gay female coaches once their relationships are made public,” the suit states.

Griesbaum claims in the suit the UI retaliated against her longtime partner, Jane Meyer, by removing Meyer from her position as an associate athletics director after she complained about Griesbaum’s firing. Meyer, who sued the school in November, was paid $70,000 less than a male counterpart, both suits state.

“I cannot think of any example in the past two decades where a male coach was fired after being exonerated,” Griesbaum said in a statement prepared by her attorney, Tom Newkirk. “The only logical conclusion is that there is something more sinister going on, and that something more is gender bias and continued inequality for female coaches and athletes.”

The UI also released a statement.

“Tracey Griesbaum’s termination as head coach of the field hockey team had nothing to do with her gender,” according to an email from UI Spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. “Director Barta concluded that there was substance to these persistent allegations, and that he had to protect the students. Based upon the results of the independent investigation and his discussions with Coach Griesbaum, he decided to change leadership.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will be at the UI the week of April 11 for an investigation into whether the UI provides equal opportunities to men and women in sports participation, facilities, financial aid, practice times and recruitment, among other areas.

The probe follows two complaints filed against the UI since January 2015.

Four UI field hockey players said their federal gender-equity rights were violated when the UI fired Griesbaum. The students said the university investigates complaints of male and female student athletes differently and holds female coaches to a higher standard.

A second complaint, filed Sept. 2, has remained largely confidential, although Newkirk, a Des Moines attorney who advised the field hockey players and is representing Griesbaum, said the new filing relates to concerns the UI is inflating women’s rowing rosters to create the perception that women’s sports participation is comparable to men’s.

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