Education

University of Iowa again extends employment policies, practices review

Changes underway after Meyer, Griesbaum settlement

Former University of Iowa Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum (right) and former UI Associate Athletics Director Jane Mayer rejoice May 4, 2017, after a jury awarded Meyer $1.4 million in her discrimination case against the university.  (Photo courtesy of Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm)
Former University of Iowa Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum (right) and former UI Associate Athletics Director Jane Mayer rejoice May 4, 2017, after a jury awarded Meyer $1.4 million in her discrimination case against the university. (Photo courtesy of Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm)

The University of Iowa again is extending its contract with a Des Moines law firm hired to review UI employment policies and practices following a high-profile legal spat with former Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer and former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.

The second amendment to the original November 2017 contract with Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. gives the firm more time — until Jan. 21, 2019 — to determine whether UI athletics practices comply with employment laws and policies related to equitable employee treatment.

The most recent extension doesn’t expand the contract cost, which started at $95,000 and tacked on $92,000 for its first extension in May. Including expenses for things like travel and lodging, UI to date has paid Fredrikson & Byron a total $116,664.30, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

UI Chief Human Resources Officer and Associate Vice President Cheryl Reardon in a statement said giving Fredrikson & Byron more time will ensure their review “is comprehensive and provides appropriate recommendations for additional training or changes to our employment practices.”

The firm’s initial review of the university’s policies and practices related to hiring, promotion, documentation, compensation, and termination of both faculty and staff produced a handful of recommendations, which human resources leaders have been implementing.

The university, for example, revised policies regarding unacceptable behavior and anti-retaliation to make them clearer, more consistent, and better organized “to allow for easier cross-referencing.”

Based on Fredrikson & Byron’s finding the UI definition of harassment with respect to speech under its anti-harassment policy is too narrow, UI enacted revisions that have brought its policy into legal compliance and make it more effective, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communications.             

It’s also clarified interim measures in its sexual harassment policy to ensure “a safe campus environment” while an investigation is ongoing.

Specifically, instead of allowing an administrator to suspend or place on leave an employee accused of sexual harassment “in extraordinary circumstances” if they are “reasonably certain” he or she committed the alleged harassment and pose a risk if continued to be employed, the UI cut the “extraordinary circumstances” language. The revised policy also replaced the “reasonably certain” clause with one giving administrative permission to suspend upon belief the employee “more likely than not” committed the alleged behavior.

The university omitted entirely a clause requiring “reasonable steps will be taken to restore the reputation of the respondent” if “allegations are not substantiated.”

The current portion of the review is focused on UI athletics compliance, but the university is planning later phases of its review to target academic and operational units along with UI Health Care.

UI President Bruce Harreld ordered the review last year after a Polk County jury awarded $1.43 million to former UI Associate Athletics Director Meyer, who accused UI of discriminating against her based on gender and sexual orientation.

Meyer’s longtime partner, former UI head field hockey coach Griesbaum, sued on similar grounds, and the university settled her lawsuit along with Meyer’s for a total $6.5 million following the jury award.

In a statement this week, UI’s Reardon said the review is meant to be “forward-looking to help the university be the best workplace possible for current and future employees.”

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

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