Higher education

University of Iowa pays $6.5 million in Meyer, Griesbaum cases

Deal comes as UI faces trial in former field hockey coach's bias case

Former University of Iowa Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum (right) and former UI Associate Athletics Director Jane Ma
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 will pay $6.5 million to settle lawsuits asserting it discriminated against former Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum and former Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer, the UI announced Friday.

The settlement, which includes the $1.43 million a jury awarded Meyer earlier this month, came after both sides agreed earlier this week to delay motions seeking additional damages in the Meyer case.

Much of the three-week Meyer trial focused on how the UI Athletics Department handled the firing of Griesbaum in 2014 after some student-athletes complained she had been verbally abusive. She had also sued the university for discrimination, and her case was set to begin trial June 5.

Meyer, her longtime partner, was transferred out of the department in 2014 and her job was later eliminated. She has sued also in federal court.

The settlement announced Friday addresses all three cases. The UI, in making the agreement, said it is not admitting it engaged in any acts of discrimination or retaliation.

“We are pleased to have this behind us and looking forward to participating in the external review of our employment practices,” UI Athletic Director Gary Barta said in a prepared statement.

“As an athletics department we have tremendous coaches, staff and student-athletes who are succeeding at the highest level, both in competition and academic performance. I am very proud of our department’s commitment to our student-athletes and that our outlook remains strong. We are confident the best is yet to come.”

The settlement will come from the UI Athletic Department’s budget, which is over $100 million this year from sources that don’t include taxes and tuition.

According to documents, the UI will pay Griesbaum about $1.5 million and pay about another $1 million in legal fees.

The deal calls for about $2.3 million for Meyer, and another roughly $1.6 million in legal fees on her behalf. This settlement includes the $1.43 million a Polk County jury awarded to Meyer May 4 in a unanimous verdict finding the UI discriminated against her and retaliated when she complained about Griesbaum’s firing.

“This historic settlement with the University of Iowa follows a landmark jury verdict and award, and it plants a firm stake in the ground for equality and opportunity in women’s athletics across the country,” said Jill Zwagerman, lead attorney for Meyer with the Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm in Des Moines. “This settlement speaks volumes not just here in Iowa but to countless other women in collegiate athletics.”

Christian Dennie, who practices sports law for Barlow Garsek & Simon in Fort Worth, Texas, said he doesn’t think May 4 verdict qualifies as a legal landmark, but “obviously, this is big verdict against an institution.” He said the jury’s decision for Meyer likely helped the UI decide to settle Griesbaum’s suit.

“The possibility of potential appellate litigation and further expenses lends credence to putting the matter to rest on agreeable terms,” Dennie said. “It not uncommon for parties to look to cease further fighting and to attempt to provide a resolution of further public discussion.”

The employment review Barta mentioned was announced May 4 and detailed in a UI news release Friday.

The UI plans to hire an independent firm to conduct an external review of UI employment practices. The first phase will cover the Athletic Department, Phase 2 will review UI academic and operational units and the third phase will focus on UI Health Care, the UI reported.

The university is forming a committee of representatives of the administration, faculty, staff and students to select the outside consulting firm(s), the UI said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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