U. of Iowa to review job practices after $1.4M verdict
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa announced plans Friday to hire an outside firm to review its employment practices after a jury ruled that it discriminated against a high-ranking gay female athletic administrator.
President Bruce Harreld said the review would begin in the athletic department and focus on compliance with the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The department was the focus of a three-week trial that cast a harsh light on the management of Athletic Director Gary Barta.
Jurors on Thursday awarded Jane Meyer, the department’s No. 2 administrator for more than a decade, $1.4 million for lost wages and emotional distress, agreeing that she faced discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. Jurors also found that she faced retaliation for complaining about gender bias and that the university violated Iowa’s equal pay law by paying her $70,000 annually less than a male administrator.
The cost is expected to grow significantly. Meyer’s attorneys, Jill Zwagerman and Tom Newkirk, said they believe that the $374,000 the jury awarded for lost wages will triple because the jury found the pay violation was “willful.” Meyer will also be entitled to have the university reimburse her for attorneys’ fees, which Newkirk said would be around $700,000. Meyer may also seek reinstatement.
Meyer’s attorneys reacted skeptically to the review, noting the university had refused since 2014 to investigate their claims that Barta held female coaches to a tougher standard than male coaches. Harreld also gave Barta a raise and five-year contract extension last year, saying he runs a top-notch department.
Meyer’s attorneys said they feared the announcement was an attempt to get ahead of potential court-ordered monitoring of the department that they will seek.
“They don’t need a review of their policies. Their policies are wonderful,” Zwagerman said. “The problem is they are not following their own policies. What they need to do is acknowledge that they have screwed up so that they can move forward and fix it.”
The university says it’s disappointed in the verdict and considering an appeal.
Meyer alleged that Barta sidelined her, hiring Gene Taylor as deputy director at a salary $70,000 higher than what she earned performing similar duties. On Taylor’s first day in 2014, Barta fired Meyer’s partner, the longtime and successful Iowa women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum. Barta later transferred Meyer outside the department after she objected to Griesbaum’s firing, saying Meyer couldn’t remain in athletics during her partner’s litigation against Iowa. The university eliminated Meyer’s job last year after Barta refused to allow her to return.
Iowa argued that Barta acted appropriately in removing Meyer, saying she’d become disruptive. But the eight-member jury ruled unanimously that Meyer had proven all five of her claims.
Next month, the university faces trial in the lawsuit filed by Griesbaum, who argues she was the victim of similar discrimination. Griesbaum’s case is expected to examine what her supporters have called Barta’s pattern of firing gay female coaches while retaining male coaches with similar or worse records.
The university denies those allegations, saying Barta’s decisions are based on performance. He testified he fired Griesbaum out of concern about her treatment of players, even though an investigation found no policy violations.
Beth Beglin, another former Iowa field hockey coach, called Thursday’s verdict an “absolutely shameful chapter in the history of the university,” which was once acknowledged as a national leader in gender equity in athletics. The university in 2014 rejected Beglin’s request for an investigation into Barta’s treatment of female coaches.
“It’s two years too late,” Beglin said. “All anybody wanted in 2014 was this pattern to be investigated.”