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
Jane Meyer was blindsided when her boss fired her partner. She was so upset that at a staff meeting an hour later she raised her voice in protest, she testified Thursday in her discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa.
But Meyer, the university’s former senior associate director of athletics, told a jury at the Polk County Courthouse that she never yelled or screamed, or crossed the line into unprofessional behavior.
“I asked a hard and very direct question,” Meyer said. “I said, ‘Why are we firing our best coach? This makes no sense to me.”
Athletic director Gary Barta fired field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum “without cause” after a UI investigation into the program found no violations of school policy. Griesbaum had been a Hawkeyes coach for 14 seasons, compiling a 169-107 record. She also has been in a relationship with Meyer since 2004, a fact both claim in separate lawsuits that ultimately led to the loss of their jobs.
Meyer, who was second in command in the Iowa athletic department from 2001-14, is claiming gender and sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation for her complaints about gender inequity, and unequal pay. She is seeking money for lost wages and emotional distress.
Much of Meyer’s second day of testimony focused on what happened in the second half of 2014, from the time she was questioned about her relationship with Griesbaum, through the hiring of a man to fill a newly created position that essentially stripped her of some of her most important duties, to the firing of her partner and Meyer’s eventual reassignment from the athletic department by Barta.
Meyer’s job with the university was terminated last September.
Assistant attorney general George Carroll, representing the university, had told jurors in Tuesday’s opening statement that Meyer berated Barta in the Aug. 4, 2014, staff meeting and could have been fired on the spot.
Meyer calmly disputed that claim Thursday, admitting “there was passion in my voice,” but said it was within her role as the athletic department’s senior women’s administrator to ensure equal treatment. She cited two male coaches – Fran McCaffery (basketball) and Tom Brands (wrestling) – whose “antics … were nothing compared to Tracey.”
“I was never aware of ever firing a coach with a winning record,” Meyer said. “It just didn’t add up for me.”
Griesbaum did not report to Meyer, and so she was assured in an October 2012 meeting with then-human resources director Sue Buckley that the relationship did not violate the university’s nepotism policy. Meyer never disclosed the relationship to Barta, she said, because she was under no obligation to do so and she didn’t feel that he would be accepting.
Neither did she speak openly about it around the office, Meyer said.
“I’m not a flamboyant lesbian,” she said, noting her desire was to become an athletic director at a major-conference university.
“You don’t become one if you’re an ‘out’ lesbian. You have to be very careful about your personality, unless you’re heterosexual.”
After Griesbaum’s dismissal, Meyer said she had some tough days at work, many times preferring to shut herself in her office. But she said her work did not suffer, and she never missed a deadline on a project.
Aug. 4, 2014, was also the first day of work for Gene Taylor, whom Barta selected to fill the newly created role of deputy athletic director. He was brought in from North Dakota State, where he had been athletic director, and given about half of Meyer’s duties plus a salary of $245,000 — $72,000 more than she was making. Taylor became the No. 2 person in the department and assumed daily operations of the football and men’s basketball teams. Meyer retained oversight of women’s basketball, but was never told why, she said.
Meyer said she was included in only one meeting with Barta and Taylor, but had a chance to observe him in his new role, and wondered if he had enough to do.
“I just didn’t understand what work was coming out of (Taylor’s) office,” she said, claiming that whenever she dropped by he had the TV tuned to ESPN.
“I don’t have time to watch ESPN,” Meyer said.
Taylor was hired Friday as the new athletic director at Kansas State. Barbara Burke was promoted to his deputy athletic director job.
On Oct. 30, 2014, Barta presented Meyer with her annual job review, which contained negative comments for the first time in her professional life, Meyer said. There were also some positive remarks.
On Dec. 4, Meyer asked Barta for a meeting and gave him a memo outlining what she described as a pattern of discriminatory actions in his department, against herself and others.
“I felt that Mr. Barta was making decisions in isolation,” Meyer testified. She said she told him: “I want you to see the cumulative effect of your decisions.”
Barta told her he would look it over and get back to her. The next day she got a call from him asking her to come to a meeting in the human resources department. She was being put on indefinite leave, Meyer was told, and would be reassigned outside of the athletic department.
Meyer said the reason she was given was her relationship with Griesbaum, the fact that Griesbaum had threatened to sue for employment discrimination and the proximity of Meyer's office to Barta’s. Meyer was told the removal was not for disciplinary reasons. She was told it was only until the Griesbaum matter was resolved. She never returned to the athletic department.
In February 2015, Meyer said, she got another copy of her performance review via email. In this version, one more goal had been added and the positive remarks were removed.
Earlier Thursday, Meyer testified that it was at that meeting with Barta in August 2013 that she first heard that she wasn’t performing her duties to the satisfaction of some high-profile members of the athletic department.
Barta informed Meyer that she would not be considered for the position that Taylor eventually landed.
“He wanted someone who could better represent him,” Meyer said Barta told her.
She said she was startled to hear that, but was just as alarmed with what Barta told her next.
“Kirk Ferentz had mentioned he no longer wanted to work with me,” said Meyer, referencing Iowa’s longtime football coach, whose team was under her day-to-day oversight.
When asked why, Meyer said she was told the dispute stemmed from a graphic of a planned new indoor football practice facility she was asked to supply for Ferentz some 18 months previously for him to show potential recruits. The copy she provided, after input from the architects designing the facility, was a poorly rendered version of what eventually was built. Meyer said Barta told her Ferentz was displeased because it included women on the field, not just football players.
Meyer said the drawing was originally incorrect because the architects believed that it was to be used by athletic teams other than just football. She said she later provided a better version.
In May 2014, Barta informed her he was launching an investigation into claims of “an inappropriate relationship” in the field hockey program. Meyer, who was then living with Griesbaum, said she assumed that referred to the two of them.
In June, Meyer was interviewed as part of the probe and said she felt like “I was being investigated.” She said the first question was whether she and Griesbaum were a couple.
“It should have never been asked,” Meyer, said, choking up briefly. Iowa’s anti-discrimination policy prevents such questioning, she said.
As an example of what she perceived to be Barta’s discomfort with her, Meyer said he never invited her to the fundraising dinners he held in his home on Friday evenings before home football games. Others in the department were invited, Meyer said.
That denied her the chance to make key connections that could help her advance in her career, Meyer said.