Barta questioned over handling of athletes' complaints

Mark Emmert

Three Iowa field hockey players met with athletic director Gary Barta after he fired their coach in 2014, questioning whether his decision was the result of gender bias.

Those same players later wrote a letter to then-university president Sally Mason leveling the same concerns after they said Barta was unresponsive.

That timeline emerged Wednesday at the Polk County Courthouse, where Barta testified for a fourth day in the lawsuit brought by his former senior associate athletic director, Jane Meyer. Meyer alleges that she was reassigned from her job because of gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and that the actions stemmed from Barta’s firing of Griesbaum on Aug. 4, 2014, and Meyer’s complaints about that decision. Meyer and Griesbaum are in a romantic relationship.


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Barta was asked by Meyer’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, why he investigated claims of verbal abuse brought by three of Griesbaum’s players, but not the question of discrimination raised subsequently.

Jane Meyer, showing reporters the installation of new synthetic turf at Kinnick Stadium in 2009, is suing the University of Iowa over the loss of her job as senior associate athletic director, claiming gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

Barta responded that he asked for the probe of Griesbaum’s behavior only after two previous incidents involving the longtime coach.

Newkirk introduced into evidence the results of Iowa’s 2013-14 student-athlete exit surveys in an attempt to show that many claims of athlete abuse go uninvestigated. Those surveys showed 27 athletes who alleged verbal abuse and 28 who alleged mental abuse.

Jane Meyer's lawsuit against the University of Iowa began Monday in Des Moines with the selection of an eight-member jury and opening statements.

Barta said he couldn’t investigate because the surveys are anonymous, so he had no way of knowing which athlete was making which claim. He said he would investigate if someone came to him directly. Defense attorney George Carroll also pointed out that the athletes weren’t being questioned solely about their experiences in sports, but as students broadly, so not all claims may have related to treatment by coaches.

Barta did admit that he could have asked for the athletes’ responses to be broken down by sport, to potentially discover if there was a pattern in one program, but that he chose not to. His testimony concluded Wednesday afternoon with Newkirk showing him some handwritten notes Griesbaum made at a meeting with him on June 24, 2014.

Those notes indicate Griesbaum “was getting mixed messages” from Barta and that she “resolved to do things differently in the future.” Barta had testified that Griesbaum refused to change her coaching style when problems were pointed out to her.

Also Wednesday:

  • The eight jurors heard from Susan Buckley, who retired as Iowa’s vice president of human resources in 2015. Buckley confirmed that she told Meyer in 2012 that her relationship with Griesbaum did not violate the school’s nepotism policy, since neither supervised the other.
  • Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder testified that her longtime assistant coach, Jan Jensen, has been invited along with her wife to department social functions, and that Barta has been welcoming of that same-sex marriage. Bluder was a defense witness, but was allowed to testify out of order to accommodate her travel plans. She was the first coach called to the stand, and her testimony lasted fewer than five minutes.
  • Meyer’s older sister, Maria Steele, spoke of the change she observed in Meyer’s demeanor after Barta reassigned her from her athletic department job in 2014. Meyer’s employment at Iowa ended last September. “She’s more withdrawn. She’s sad … She’s worried about the future,” Steele said of Meyer.
  • Jennifer Modestou, director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at Iowa, acknowledged that she saw a copy of the memo Meyer gave Barta on Dec. 4, 2014, alleging a pattern of gender discrimination in his department. Modestou never investigated those claims, however. Meyer has testified that she wasn’t comfortable having the university handle the inquiry if it would be done by the same personnel who wrote the report into the field hockey program that resulted in Griesbaum’s firing. Meyer said the university never informed her that she could have a third party run the investigation instead. Modestou said she thought Meyer had been given that option, although she wasn’t in the room when those discussions took place. Modestou said the matter was dropped because she never heard back from Meyer as to how she wanted to proceed. She denied that she was mandated by university policy to start a probe into the allegations even without Meyer’s cooperation. “You would need specific information, credible information” to do that, Modestou said. Meyer eventually took her case to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.