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
Tracey Griesbaum has been at the center of testimony throughout her partner’s discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa, and a Polk County jury finally got to hear from the fired Hawkeye field hockey coach Thursday.
Griesbaum spent more than an hour on the witness stand recounting a lengthy and successful coaching career that unexpectedly ended in August 2014, the discrimination that she believes caused that termination, and the anguish she felt as she watched Jane Meyer also lose her job at Iowa in the aftermath.
Meyer, the university’s former senior associate athletic director, was reassigned in December 2014 and relieved of all duties last September. She is suing for discrimination based on her gender and sexual orientation, plus claims of retaliation after she asked for an investigation into unfair treatment of women in the athletic department.
Meyer’s attorneys rested their case Thursday afternoon. The eight-person jury will begin listening to testimony from defense witnesses Friday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.
Griesbaum has her own discrimination lawsuit against Iowa scheduled for trial in June. But over the course of eight days of testimony, her name has been referenced more often than Meyer’s as plaintiff attorneys attempt to make a case that it was Griesbaum’s firing that was the beginning of the end of Meyer’s once-promising career in major-college sports administration.
Griesbaum testified Thursday that she was surprised to get an e-mail from athletic director Gary Barta in the spring of 2014 informing her that someone – she said she was never told who – had lodged a complaint about her coaching methods and the environment in her program. A two-month university investigation ensued, during which Griesbaum was interviewed on three separate occasions, along with Meyer, other administrators and a score of current and former field hockey players.
On July 21, Griesbaum said she and her coaching staff met with Barta and left feeling they had been exonerated by the university. The report uncovered no violations of school policy.
The field hockey coaches gathered in a small conference room and “took a deep breath,” Griesbaum said.
“We all thought it was, just move on, moving forward and ‘thank you for participating,’” she said.
Two weeks later, Barta told Griesbaum she was being fired without cause, meaning under the terms of her contract she was owed $200,000.
“What have I done wrong?” Griesbaum said she asked Barta three times. “Because he constantly prior to this has praised my work.”
Barta previously testified that the 2014 investigation was the third time he’d fielded complaints from field hockey players and parents over Griesbaum’s conduct. The first two resulted in no punishment. The third time, despite the findings of the investigation, he felt he had to act. Barta also said that Griesbaum had resisted any suggestion that she change her behavior.
Griesbaum denied that Thursday.
“I don’t think that’s healthy. I don’t think I’ve ever had that outlook on anything,” said Griesbaum, who had a 169-107 record in 14 seasons as head coach at Iowa. “You constantly have to change.”
Griesbaum echoed Meyer’s testimony by saying that she, too, was asked about their relationship as part of the field hockey probe, a line of questioning she found inappropriate. The university’s human resources director told Meyer in 2012 that the couple was not in violation of the school’s nepotism policy because neither supervised the other.
Griesbaum said she and Meyer weren’t trying to keep their relationship a secret.
But “being gay women in athletics, it’s very common for your sexuality to be used against you,” Griesbaum said, mentioning other coaches using that knowledge to try to sway recruits and their parents. “We didn’t think professionally it would be a risk worth taking.”
Griesbaum said she later confronted Barta, asking why he had brought her personal life into the field hockey investigation. She said Barta denied that’s what occurred.
Griesbaum, who has been out of work since her firing except for a couple of months spent doing maintenance and upkeep on sports facilities, also described the severe changes in Meyer’s health and outlook on life since her reassignment and eventual termination.
Those included episodes of vomiting, migraine headaches, an inability to sleep and such severe clenching of Meyer’s jaw that it put holes into her prescription mouthguard.
“I think it just disrupted everything about her,” Griesbaum said. “It was taking more energy for her to get energy. A lot of times, she would isolate herself.”
Meyer is seeking money for lost wages and emotional distress.
Assistant attorney general George Carroll, representing the university, briefly questioned Griesbaum to establish that she had signed a contract that allowed for her to be fired without cause. Griesbaum did receive the $200,000 due her, she testified, and the university split that into two annual $100,000 payments for tax purposes at her request.