Education

University of Iowa extends its employment review after Griesbaum, Meyer settlement

Contract extension pays up to $92K

Former Iowa head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, left, and former Iowa Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer disc
Former Iowa head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, left, and former Iowa Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer discuss their discrimination cases against the University of Iowa at the offices of Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm, P.L.C in Des Moines on Monday, May 22, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa — in response to discrimination findings within its athletics department — is extending a review of its employment practices, agreeing to pay a consultant up to $92,000 to continue its work.

A contract extension with Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. charges the Des Moines-based law firm to spend up to 90 days reviewing documents and data to determine if the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is complying with employment laws and policies related to equitable treatment of employees.      

The extension continues the firm’s review, which began in November with an assessment of university and athletics employment policies — interviewing athletics and human resources officials to determine if policies comply with state and federal law.

Specifically, the firm reviewed five university policies along with several specific to athletics and found the UI’s human rights, sexual harassment, anti-retaliation, and violence polices comply with state and federal workplace law.

The firm did suggest changes to the UI anti-harassment policy, reporting it sets too high a threshold for violations. Specifically, an assessment found the policy “does not accurately communicate what constitutes protected-class harassment in the workplace.”

To violate the UI policy, currently, speech must contain “personally abusive epithets, which are inherently likely to provost a violent reaction;” a “serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals;” or a “threat to a person or group of people with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.”

Those standards, according to the report, might cause employees to “erroneously believe that harassment that falls short of this standard must be tolerated and not reported.”

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

Former UI head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, Meyer’s longtime partner, sued on similar grounds. The university settled that lawsuit and Meyer’s for a total $6.5 million following the jury award.

The employment review is being conducted in three phases — the first focused on UI athletics, the second on UI academic and operational units, and the third tied to UI Health Care.

The university’s initial contract with Fredrikson & Byron paid the firm $95,000 — not including expenses — to assess university and athletics policies, but not UI practices. The university has paid Fredrikson more than $97,500 so far, including expenses.

The next $92,000 phase will “evaluate athletics practices to determine if there are discrepancies between the written policies and application of those policies across campus,” according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

“The university will then consider future project phases to review academic and operational units and UI Health Care.”    

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