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University of Iowa Pays $6.5 Million to Settle Sexual Discrimination Lawsuits

— May 23, 2017

The University of Iowa announced on Friday it would pay $6.5 million to settle sexual discrimination lawsuits brought against it by two former employees.

Iowa’s longtime senior associate athletic director, Jane Meyer, and her partner, women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, filed the suits following Griesbaum’s firing in 2014.

Both women cited Griesbaum’s controversial termination as the cause for their complaints. Griesbaum herself was attempting to make the case that the school’s Athletics Director, Gary Barta, was quicker to fire gay, female employees than their male counterparts.

Shortly after Griesbaum was offered a buyout by the university to leave her position, Meyer reported an increase in pressure from Barta and his colleagues.

Barta claims to have fired Griesbaum due to allegations of mistreatment by some players, but a university investigation didn’t uncover any wrongdoing or policy violations.

Angered by what she perceived to be the unfair dismissal of her partner from her position as field hockey coach, Meyer “directly challenged” Barta. According to ABC News, a number of Griesbaum’s field hockey players also complained to the university, bemoaning and decrying the removal of the 14-season coach.

In December of 2014, Barta had Meyer transferred to a position with the University of Iowa outside athletics. He claimed she shouldn’t be involved with the department while her partner was actively pursuing litigation.

Not long after, Meyer was laid off after her new position was eliminated.

It didn’t take long before she joined her partner in the lawsuit against the University of Iowa while also opening a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Her damages, according to ABC News, were expected to grow until the involved parties reached the multi-million dollar settlement.

One of the many troubling concerns raised by Meyer during trial included Barta’s hiring of a male deputy athletics director named Gene Taylor. While no accusation of any wrongdoing on the part of Taylor was made, Polk County jurors used his salary as evidence of discrimination against Meyer – despite being a new hire whose position was created to take over some Meyer’s responsibilities, Taylor was paid $70,000 more than Iowa’s former senior associate athletic director.

Meyer’s comparatively low salary, transfer to a non-academic position, and subsequent lay-off was enough to convince jurors that she had suffered discrimination at the hands of the university’s athletics department, as well as retaliation for speaking out in defiance of the treatment of her partner.

Seal of the U.S. Dept. of Education; image by the U.S. Army Heraldry Directorate, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Seal of the U.S. Dept. of Education; image by the U.S. Army Heraldry Directorate, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

University of Iowa President Bruce Herrald approved the settlements and announced the school’s plans to hire an ‘’outside firm’’ to review its employment practices.

Iowa is due to pay $2.33 million to Meyer and $1.49 million to Griesbaum to cover lost wages and emotional distress; the remaining $2.68 million goes to Newkirk Zwagerman, the Des Moines law firm which represented both women.

ABC News’ coverage notes one stipulation of the settlement was that Meyer and Griesbaum would drop their requests for reinstatement as well as the separate federal discrimination lawsuit.

ABC reports that a U.S. Department of Education probe into complaints made by student athletes angered by Griesbaum’s firing is ongoing.


Iowa to pay $6.5M to settle landmark sports bias lawsuits

Iowa settles athletic discrimination cases for $6.5M

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