Opening statements were delivered in Des Moines yesterday and trial officially began for Jane Meyer vs. The University of Iowa. Formally captioned Jane Meyer vs. The University of Iowa, Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and the State of Iowa, the former senior associate athletics director is suing the aforementioned parties alleging gender discrimination, education discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation for participation in protected activity, in violation of several sections of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Chapter 216. The case is expected to last around three weeks and approximately 30-40 witnesses may be called to testify.
Jane Meyer vs. The University of Iowa is important for a number of reasons. It’s the first of two high-profile trials alleging gender discrimination (among other things) by the Iowa Athletic Department, the second involving ex-field hockey coach and significant other of Meyer, Tracey Griesbaum. Also, the potential witnesses expected to be called are a who’s who of University of Iowa administrators, coaches and ex-officials. But before we talk in-depth about the trial and its potential witnesses, let’s discuss the timeframe and allegations by Ms. Meyer.
Meyer was hired by the University of Iowa in March of 2001 as the senior associate athletic director. Essentially, that was the #2 position in the athletic department, only behind then-athletic director Bob Bowlsby. Following Bowlsby’s departure in 2006, Gary Barta was named athletic director on August 1st. Since Barta’s hiring, Meyer alleges that he engaged in gender, educational and sexual discrimination. The full petition is embedded below, but here’s a list of the highlights of the allegations by Meyer:
- Barta showed favoritism towards football and provided more career advancement for males by creating new staff and administrative positions.
- Barta allowed his staff to make sexist comments during meetings.
- Meyer, a homosexual, was in a relationship with field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum. Meyer notified U of I Human Resources of this relationship, and this relationship was cleared by the University. Despite this, Barta used this relationship against Meyer and also took it into consideration when deciding to fire Tracey Griesbaum on August 4th, 2014.
- Barta fired or forced out at least six female coaches who he learned were gay, none of which were under the direct supervision of Jane Meyer.
- In May of 2014, Barta announced the new position of Deputy Director of Athletics, which would essentially be the new #2 position in the athletic department. Despite the similarities in the positions, Barta told Meyer that she would not be considered for the position if she applied. Barta then hired Gene Taylor, a heterosexual male, and paid him approximately $245,000 per year. This was more than $70,000 than what Meyer was making, despite the job responsibilities being similar.
- On December 4th, 2014, Meyer filed a written complaint regarding the aforementioned issues (This memo is embedded below). The next day, December 5th, Meyer is put on administrative leave and Barta moves her out of the athletic department. Barta tells the athletic staff that it was due to the possibility of Tracey Griesbaum filing lawsuit against the U of I, which Meyer alleges is an impermissible reason for her relocation.
- Meyer is moved to the U of I College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to become a project manager, assisting with flood recovery efforts, where she did minimal work that did not allow her to utilize her skills in sports administration.
- Meyer reported the aforementioned issues to the Iowa Board of Regents, which resulted in her being terminated by the U of I in September of 2016. Meyer claims that the University promised that she would be returned to the athletic department following the completion of Griesbaum's lawsuit, which isn't set for trial until June of 2017.
Meyer alleges that these actions are in violation of several sections of the Iowa Civil Rights Act as it is unlawful to pay employees differently on the basis of gender, to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and to retaliate for lawful activity. In summary, she is seeking that the Defendants (not only the U of I but the Board of Regents and the State) not discriminate on the basis of gender, provide better workplace training, reinstate Meyer to her former position in the athletics department, compensate her for losses in earnings and award her damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc. There are no specific dollar amounts listed in Meyer's petition.
Meyer filed suit back on November 4th, 2015, what you’re reading above is the amended petition that contains updated information.
The answer filed by George Carroll, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Iowa and representative of the Defendants, is what you usually see in a civil suit. Deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, etc. etc. etc. Caroll did raise some affirmative defenses on behalf of the Defendants, but the gist of the answer was a blanket denial of the allegations made by Meyer.
Meyer was officially terminated by U of I on September 9th, 2016. Between the time she was transferred to the College of Liberal arts and her termination she says that she was essentially placed in a cubicle and asked to look at construction documents related to the University's flood recovery efforts. The reason the U of I gave for her termination was that the flood recovery projects that she was managing were expected to end at that time. She sought an injunction as part of this lawsuit to prevent her firing but it was denied by the court and her employment officially ended on that date.
Over the next year and five months there are multiple motions filed, discovery exchanged, depositions, and a good amount of legal wrangling that I won’t bore you with. It’s in the beginning of April 2017 when things start to actually pick up because after all, trial is approaching. At this point, motions in limine are filed by the Plaintiff and the Defendant. To save you a Google Search, a motion in limine is a pre-trial motion to determine the admissibility of evidence at trial. Basically, instead of arguing whether or not something should come into evidence AT the trial, you know the answer ahead of time. It was also during this time that the parties filed their witness lists. Here’s a look at the Defendant's witness list:
That’s uh…quite a witness list. Barta, Bluder, Brands, Ferentz(s), Heller, Mason, and Taylor are names that are recognizable by anyone. Meyer listed a number of these same witnesses but also included Bob Bowlsby, Tracey Griesbaum, and Bruce Rastetter. There are also approximately 200+ exhibits, none of which are accessible to the public, which maybe offered by the parties.
Jury selection took up the entirety of Monday and opening statements were delivered by Assistant Attorney General George Carroll and Meyer’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, Tuesday morning. Mark Emmert of the Des Moines Register is a necessary follow, as he’s personally present in the courtroom and is providing live updates of the testimony. It was during these opening statements that this (mini) bomb was dropped by the AAG:
Assistant AG George Carroll told jurors that Barbara Burke has been promoted to take Gene Taylor's deputy AD spot. That's news to all of us— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) April 18, 2017
Taylor, who Meyer alleges was (essentially) given a “newer” version of her job (at higher pay), was hired by Kansas State as their athletic director this past week. Barbara Burke was Iowa’s “Senior Associate Athletics Director for Sports Administration and Event Management” and the U of I’s Senior Women’s Administrator. She’s been with the U of I for less than a year, hired July 21st, 2016, from Tulane University.
This was a surprise to the media, as Mark Emmert and many others Tweeted out. An official press release announcing Burke's promotion wasn't sent out by Iowa until exactly 4:30 PM, which is the close of business hours for State offices (and I would assume, University offices). Another way of saying this is that the University of Iowa announced the hiring (or promotion) of a woman to second most important position in the athletic department in the opening statement of a civil trial involving gender discrimination by the athletic department. This is unprecedented on almost any level and you can interpret that hire any way you want but to me it screams “SEE WE AREN’T SEXIST.”
Meyer is expected to testify today, Barta is expected to testify tomorrow and we’ll keep you updated on when the other high-profile witnesses take the stand. It may not seem like it, but the reputation of the University of Iowa Athletic Department is on the line. Either the athletic department and Gary Barta will be vindicated, or their (alleged) actions will be condemned by the jury and you could see a major shake-up in the athletic department in the immediate future. Buckle up.
Jane Meyer's December 4th, 2014 letter to Gary Barta: