Iowa Hawkeyes

Review finds no 'inequitable treatment' in University of Iowa athletics after $6.5 million settlement

Assessment excluded personnel files, despite initial plans

The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — A review of how well the University of Iowa Athletics Department implements its employment policies — coming nearly two years since the UI paid out millions in discrimination lawsuits — has uncovered no “inequitable treatment of applicants or employees on the basis of protected class,” the university said Thursday.

“Multiple employees expressed a desire for more diversity in the Athletics Department, but none had personally experienced harassment or discrimination on the basis of protected class in the course of their employment,” according to a 14-page report from Fredrikson & Byron P.A.

In late 2017, the UI hired the Des Moines law firm to review its employment policies and practices after a Polk County jury earlier that year awarded former UI Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer $1.43 million based on her accusations the UI discriminated against her based on gender and sexual orientation.

Meyer’s longtime partner, former UI Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum — having sued on similar grounds — joined Meyer in settling their cases for a combined $6.5 million.

To date, the UI has paid Fredrikson and Byron $137,029.24 to review its employment policies and athletics practices, officials said. The firm next will review practices within UI academic and operational units and then UI Health Care.

The operational review will include the UI Department of Public Safety, which is facing new lawsuits accusing its leadership of discrimination in its promotion and termination activities.

In reporting its findings, the law firm said athletics employees understand the importance of diversity, actively recruit women and minorities and know how to handle discrimination or harassment complaints.

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“The review illustrates that the athletics department does a good job overall, with some areas for improvement,” said Cheryl Reardon, UI’s chief human resources officer and associate vice president, in a statement.

The report found the UI has succeeded in hiring a greater percentage of women and minorities than were represented in the applicant pool.

For example, in the 2017 budget year, women accounted for 39 percent of the 18 coaching hires, though they made up just 19 percent of the applicant pool.

Interviews with those involuntarily terminated from the department spoke of “clear-cut situations” after performance plans and progressive discipline “failed to correct the deficiencies,” the review found.

“The collaboration between the human resources personnel and the supervisors in the department is evident and commendable,” the report said.

The firm noted that a change to the information gathering methods it used had been made.

“We initially determined our compliance review of athletics department practices would include analysis of salary data, personnel files, recruitment files, and other records,” according to the report. “Interviews would be conducted only as necessary to gain clarification.”

But because the UI later decided to exclude confidential personnel records “to protect employee privacy,” the firm adjusted its plan to focus more on interviews. It said it interviewed 19 current employees — including different races, sexual orientations and genders.

The UI Athletics Department employs 231 people, including 84 women and 27 self-reported racial minorities.

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To “mitigate the risk of missing out on relevant information,” employees were asked to contact the firm if they had “information, insights, or concerns regarding equitable treatment of employees,” the report said.

Employees had three weeks over the holidays — from Dec. 19 to Jan. 9 — to respond.

“No athletics department employees contacted Fredrikson & Byron in response,” according to the report.

Among the firm’s recommendations was one urging decision-makers to improve process of making hires.

“There is not a consistent process for gathering feedback from employees who interview candidates,” according to the report. “In some cases, employees were asked to interview candidates but were never asked to contribute their observations after the interview.”

It also recommended better training for employees involved in a hiring search. “The university and athletics department policies state social media should not be used to look for or screen applicants,” according to the report. “Current practices do not comply with this policy.”

The report uncovered some salary disparities, but labeled them “self-explanatory” — as some sports are higher visibility, recruit and support more student-athletes and involve equipment and facilities upkeep.

“But no pattern indicating disparities based on race, gender, or any other protected class,” according to the report.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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