IOWA CITY — University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta responded Tuesday to the gender discrimination lawsuit filed this week by former Iowa women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.
Griesbaum, Iowa’s head coach for 14 years, is seeking reinstatement to her position as well as lost earnings and damages in a 26-page lawsuit filed Monday in Polk County District Court. Barta fired Griesbaum Aug. 4, 2014, after a UI investigation reported several field hockey players complained Griesbaum had been verbally abusive and pressured them to compete while injured.
“Her termination had nothing to do with her gender,” Barta said Tuesday during a presidential committee on athletics meeting at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “What occurred was that over several years there was a pattern of complaints that were significant and consistent. There were a number of student athletes who described an environment of fear and intimidation and mistreatment.
“In 2014, after I consulted with the president’s office, with general counsel, with HR (human resources) and many others on our staff, I did make the difficult decision that it was time for a leadership change.”
Barta fired Griesbaum just weeks before the 2014 season after the university investigated allegations that Griesbaum harassed and bullied players. The investigation did not substantiate policy violations but raised concerns about an environment of “fear, intimidation and/or mistreatment” by Griesbaum. The school paid Griesbaum a $200,000 buyout.
“As is the case with most of our coaches’ contracts, if during the course of that contract, we decide as a department we want to make a change without cause, we decide we want to make a leadership change, there’s a clause in those contracts that say what you would have to do to do that,” Barta said. “There was that clause in Tracey Griesbaum’s contract. We paid the $200,000 that it called for, so we completed all of the financial obligations that were in that contract.”
Barta said he has read the lawsuit and claimed there are “inaccuracies.” He expects those will be addressed through the legal process.
“Most importantly, if you talk to our coaches and talk to our student-athletes, and many of you do that (addressing the group), we are providing great opportunities,” Barta said. “We have 650 student-athletes. Men and women, no matter the sport, are having great experiences. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
Barta also addressed the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights upcoming investigation into UI athletics.
The Office of Civil Rights will be at the UI the week of April 11 for an investigation into whether the UI provides equal opportunities to men and women in sports participation, facilities, financial aid, practice times and recruitment.
The probe follows two complaints filed against the UI since January 2015. Four UI field hockey players said their federal gender-equity rights were violated when the UI fired Griesbaum. The students said the university investigates complaints of male and female student athletes differently and holds female coaches to a higher standard.
Barta said Iowa has answered questions and sent data to the OCR. Now, it’s time to open the doors.
“We’re going to be transparent in everything they ask us,” Barta said. “I’m sure after a year or two years or however long it takes, they’re going to have things to say that we can improve upon and we’ll welcome that and go through that process.”
A second complaint, filed Sept. 2, has remained largely confidential, although Tom Newkirk, a Des Moines attorney who advised the field hockey players and is representing Griesbaum, said the new filing relates to concerns the UI is inflating women’s rowing rosters to create the perception that women’s sports participation is comparable to men’s.
Barta said Tuesday that Iowa does have 89 women on its rowing team, but added that the average rowing roster in the Big Ten is 92 or 93.
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