Education

University of Iowa to pare back employment review launched after $6.5 million Meyer, Griesbaum settlement

'We are redirecting some of our resources' to training

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 on May 22, 2017, at the offices of the Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm in Des Moines. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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 on May 22, 2017, at the offices of the Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm in Des Moines. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is “paring back” the scope of a sweeping employment practices review that UI President Bruce Harreld announced after the institution paid out $6.5 million about two years ago to settle two high-profile sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

After hiring a Des Moines law firm in 2017 to first review its employment policies and assess practices in its athletics department — which a jury found discriminated against former associate athletics director Jane Meyer — the university again has extended its contract with Fredrikson & Byron P.A. to begin the next stage of a “modified” employment review.

The UI now is “paring back the scope of the review” — which was to start with athletics and then move to academic and operational units, as well as UI Health Care — “to focus on the more immediate need of strengthening supervisor training,” according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

“The review will continue, but we are redirecting some of our resources to developing a proactive training model,” Cheryl Reardon, chief human resources officer and associate vice president, said in a statement. “This decision reflects the findings of the employment practices review thus far and the input we’ve received through the Working@Iowa and recent campus climate surveys.”

When asked for details of the review’s modifications, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the scope has shifted “in terms of tasks but not units reviewed.”

The contract extension — the third since the UI hired Fredrikson & Byron for the job — does not expand the contract cost, which started at $95,000 and added $92,000 with its first extension in May 2018. The university continues, though, to pay the firm for expenses like travel and lodging.

To date, Beck said, UI has spent $179,868.

“Between each phase, the university has taken time to assess next steps,” Beck told The Gazette in response to a question about what has happened with the review since the university in January reported that Fredrikson & Byron uncovered no “inequitable treatment of applicants or employees on the basis of protected class” in the athletics department.

In the revised model, the forthcoming review of UI Health Care and the campus’ academic and operational units will include four steps: evaluating UI surveys and assessments and identifying areas of concern; reviewing employee concerns regarding equitable treatment practices; interviewing human resources leads about concerns and practices; and preparing a report with analyses and recommendations.

As the firm reviews campus units, employees will be invited to contact project leader — Emily Pontius, with Fredrikson & Byron, to report concerns with UI practices, according to officials.

As for the training need, the UI this fall is designing campuswide supervisor training “to ensure university policies are implemented more consistently and equitably.” The goal, according to UI Strategic Communication, is to get the roughly 3,500 faculty and staff supervisors through the new training within a year.

The training, according to Associate Vice President Reardon, will focus on creating an equitable and inclusive culture; engaging employees to maximize performance; deploying best practices through management and coaching; and ensuring consistent practices in hiring, onboarding, compensation and documentation.

“Our university policies are strong, but building better leadership skills and supervisor competency is critical to ensuring we remain an inclusive and desirable place to work,” Reardon said in a statement.

The training will offer high-quality curriculum both online and in person. And, “HR will recognize a supervisor’s previous training that pertains to the focus areas,” the UI said.

Asked whether that means some supervisors could avoid re-upping their training, Beck said, “Some prior training may count.”

“Many supervisors take voluntary supervising courses already offered by the university,” she said. “But some of the training will be brand new.”

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The UIO launched the review after a Polk County jury awarded $1.43 million to former UI Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer, who accused the institution of discriminating against her based on her gender and sexual orientation. Meyer’s longtime partner, Tracey Griesbaum, the former UI head field hockey coach, also sued on similar grounds and — after Meyer’s jury award — the university settled with both women for a total $6.5 million.

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

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