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Jane Meyer, who spent 13 years as the highest-ranking woman in UI's athletic department, is suing over the loss of her job, claiming discrimination based on her gender and sexual orientation, and retaliation after she complained about the situation. Katie Brumbeloe / Press-Citizen

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Gary Barta described for jurors Tuesday an intolerable situation within the University of Iowa athletic department in the autumn of 2014 that he said left him with no choice but to remove Jane Meyer from her longtime position.

Barta, the Hawkeyes’ athletic director, said staffers were constantly coming to him with complaints about Meyer’s behavior, and that he feared she was plotting a legal case against his department before he reassigned her on Dec. 5, 2014.

“I could no longer conduct business with her in that role,” Barta testified at the Polk County Courthouse, where Meyer’s lawsuit against the university for discrimination and retaliation is in its second week. “Jane’s behavior was escalating and becoming disruptive.”

Meyer, who spent 13 years as Iowa’s senior associate athletic director, has admitted in court that she was upset after not being considered for a promotion in 2013 and over the August 2014 firing of her romantic partner, field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum. She is suing for lost wages and emotional distress, claiming she was treated unfairly because she is a gay woman who had legitimate concerns about gender inequities in Barta’s department.

Barta moved her out of her job as Griesbaum threatened a discrimination lawsuit of her own, he said. But he also testified that he felt he needed to do it for the morale of his department.

“It’s far better, far more efficient,” Barta said of the state of the athletic department post-Meyer. “The mood and the attitude is much, much better.”

Under questioning from assistant attorney general George Carroll, representing the university, Barta said that numerous coaches and other personnel approached him in the aftermath of Meyer’s reassignment to thank him for the move.

“I’m so glad this air has been cleared now,” he said they told him.

He did not identify any of the staffers by name.

At some point — Barta couldn’t pinpoint a date — he came to the realization that Meyer should never return to the athletic department, he testified. She had been initially told she would be able to after the Griesbaum matter was resolved.

“We just couldn’t bring her back into the environment because it was so much better without her,” Barta said in his third day on the stand.

Barta also testified:

  • That he didn’t make Meyer the point person for media inquiries into the 2011 outbreak of rhabdomyolysis among Hawkeye football players because he didn’t trust her, and because he thought director of football operations Paul Federici was better qualified to speak about the matter. The hospitalization of 13 players after a series of winter workouts was nationally publicized, and occurred while Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz were out of state. Federici has previous experience as a football trainer and was “the logical choice to represent us,” Barta said. Meyer had said that the decision undermined her authority as the second-ranking athletic department official.
  • That he didn’t invite Meyer to fundraising events held in his home because that wasn’t “a central part of her job.” Barta said not all senior staff members were asked to attend the Friday evening occasions. Meyer previously testified that she felt excluded from a potentially important networking avenue.
  • He reassigned Meyer’s duties as the liaison to the football team to Gene Taylor when he became the new deputy athletic director in August 2014 because “too many things were getting to my desk.” That was a sign that Meyer was not working effectively to head off minor issues, Barta said.

On redirect, Meyer’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, asked Barta if any complaint against Meyer had ever been documented in writing. Barta said they were all delivered verbally. He also said he never personally witnessed a coach speak directly to Meyer about any issues they had with her management style.

Newkirk spent three hours Tuesday afternoon revisiting his Monday line of questioning of Barta about the 2014 investigation into the field hockey program and subsequent decision to fire Griesbaum, even though the initial report found no violations of policy. 

“I had enough information from past experience, a pattern of bullying and abuse … and a coach who said she wasn’t going to change,” Barta reiterated.

Newkirk questioned Barta on whether there was a double standard under his watch, noting that abuse complaints against men’s gymnastics coach J.D. Reive in 2013 and volleyball coach Bond Shymansky in 2015 — both males — resulted in no punishment.

Barta is scheduled to take the witness stand for a fourth day Wednesday morning. Griesbaum is also among those expected to testify.

 

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