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Four members of the University of Iowa field hockey team have filed a civil rights complaint against UI after the firing of their former coach.

In a complaint filed Jan. 28 with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the players accuse UI of a long list of gender-based discriminatory practices in violation of Title IX.

The players who filed the complaint are sophomores Chandler Ackers and Jessy Silfer, junior Natalie Cafone and senior Dani Hemeon.

The complaint alleges that UI has engaged in a pattern of removing highly qualified female coaches because of their gender. It states that UI has removed six female coaches from their jobs from December 2008 to August 2014, including former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, who was fired before the start of last season.

The complaint also accuses UI of treating differently male and female student athletes who raise concerns about their athletic experience, as well as treating differently male and female coaches who are the subject of complaints by student athletes.

The players also allege that UI uses different practices and standards when investigating female coaches, allows male coaches to use different coaching methods and treatment of players and generally holds female coaches to a higher standard than male coaches.

UI Director of Athletic Communications Steve Roe referred questions about the complaint to Joe Brennan, UI's vice president of strategic communication. Brennan said the Office of Civil Rights has not shared the complaint with UI, so the university is not commenting at this time.

Tom Newkirk, a Des Moines-based civil rights lawyer who is representing Griesbaum, filed the complaint on behalf of the players.

Newkirk said the players opted to file the complaint – which is 27 pages long, though the attorney released just the first seven publicly for privacy reasons – after they exhausted their channels for having their concerns addressed at UI.

"Number one is they didn't get any response from the university that was remotely helpful," Newkirk said. "They were either ignored or patronized in their efforts to seek information and investigation from the university. So in some sense, they had no choice but to try to get help outside the university."

Newkirk said the players want an investigation examining the role gender is playing in the administration's response to concerns raised by student athletes, and why there are different expectations for male and female coaches.

"They would certainly like to return Coach Griesbaum to her position, but they also understand that is an increasingly dim prospect," Newkirk said.

PREVIOUSLY: Documents shed more light on Iowa field hockey program | UI secretly settled field hockey complaint

In the complaint, the student athletes state that Title IX guarantees them that aspects of their participation in athletics, including coaches, won't be denied or removed because of gender.

"To fire female coaches for using coaching methods that are exactly the same as methods used by male coaches is gender discrimination," the complaint reads. "This creates harm to the female coach, of course, but it undermines the right of female student athletes to receive a similar experience to make student athletes simply because of their sex and/or the sex of their coach."

The four field hockey players contend that there is evidence that when female student athletes or their parents complain about strong female coaches, it leads to an "exaggerated response" from UI.

"When male student athletes are actually physically harmed by the behavior of male coaches (13 male football players put into the hospital)," the complaint reads, "the University not only supported the male coach who physically harmed the athletes by assuming the coach acted in good faith, but honored him by giving him coach of the year."

The complaint is referring to an incident in 2011 in which 13 UI football players were hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis after high-intensity offseason workouts. Later in 201,1 the program named strength coach Chris Doyle its assistant coach of the year.

UI Athletics Director Gary Barta terminated Griesbaum on Aug. 4 after ex-players alleged Griesbaum verbally abused and bullied them. Barta has said an investigation didn't substantiate any policy violations, but identified concerns that justified a leadership change. The university paid Griesbaum a $200,000 buyout.

Griesbaum was the fifth female coach fired since Barta became athletic director in 2009, sparking heated debate about whether female coaches within the UI Athletic Department are held to different standards than male coaches.

In her 14 seasons at UI, Griesbaum led the Hawkeyes to three consecutive Big Ten Tournament championships from 2006-08, one regular season Big Ten championship, six NCAA Tournament appearances and the 2008 NCAA Final Four.

Reach Josh O'Leary at 887-5415 or joleary@press-citizen.com.

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