Three University of Iowa athletic administrators say Barta wasn't discriminatory

Mark Emmert

Three highly ranked women in the Iowa athletic department came to the defense of their boss Monday, testifying that Gary Barta didn’t discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation, as he is accused of doing.

Paula Jantz (right), hugged Iowa women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder at a February game when she was recognized for 37 years of work in the school's athletic department. Jantz testified in a discrimination lawsuit Monday that athletic director Gary Barta treated her and her wife with the same respect as any other married couple in the department.

Barbara Burke, Mary Curtis and Paula Jantz took the witness stand on the second day of the defense’s case in a discrimination lawsuit filed by former Hawkeye athletic administrator and onetime colleague Jane Meyer. Meyer claims the university — and athletic director Barta in particular — removed her from her job because she is a gay woman who raised concerns about unequal treatment in the athletic department. She is seeking lost wages and money for emotional distress.

Previous coverage

Curtis, an associate athletic director at Iowa who leads the department’s human resources efforts, at one point told Meyer’s attorney: “I have never known Mr. Barta to make any decision based on gender.”

Jantz, who recently retired as senior associate athletic director, said that Barta treated her and her wife with the same respect as other married couples in the department.

Jane Meyer won $1.43 million in a lawsuit against the University of Iowa.

“He treated us like friends,” Jantz said. “I never once felt there was any animosity. It’s not as if we were shunned at all.”

Meyer is in a longtime relationship with Tracey Griesbaum, the field hockey coach Barta fired in August 2014. Both have testified that, while they didn’t hide their partnership, neither did they advertise it out of fear that it would be damaging to their careers in a male-dominated profession.


Tracey Griesbaum

Indeed, Jantz, who once had direct supervision of the field hockey program, said she was unaware of the Meyer-Griesbaum relationship until an Associated Press article in October 2014 revealed it. Barta has stated the same thing.

“It would have been good to have known,” Jantz said, without elaborating.

The Meyer-Griesbaum relationship was cleared by Iowa’s human resources director in 2012 as not violating the university’s nepotism policy since neither reported to the other. They also were told they were under no obligation to inform Barta or their colleagues.

Burke was the first woman in the athletic department to testify for the defense, on her first day as Iowa’s deputy athletic director. She was promoted when Gene Taylor accepted the job as athletic director at Kansas State.

Burke first worked with Barta at Wyoming, where he also promoted her to a deputy position, making her the second-ranked official in the athletic department. She said she considers Barta a mentor and that she was interested to leave Tulane to work for him again when he reached out last year. Burke initially filled the job Jantz was set to vacate.

Burke said she once served alongside Meyer for two years on an NCAA women’s basketball committee and respected her abilities. But she said Meyer would occasionally complain to her about Barta and it was clear “they just didn’t get along.”

When Barta reassigned Meyer out of athletics in December 2014, Burke called Meyer as a concerned colleague.

“I knew she was struggling. I didn’t know the details,” Burke said.

Meyer’s attorney, Jill Zwagerman, asked Burke if she had also called Meyer when Barta left Wyoming to come to Iowa in 2006 to “warn” her about him. Burke said she didn’t recall making that overture, but denied that she would ever warn someone about Barta.

“I had nothing to warn them about,” Burke said.

Earlier Monday, the eight-person jury heard from another Iowa coach who detailed frustrations about working with Meyer on a facility upgrade.

Baseball coach Rick Heller, echoing Friday testimony from football coach Kirk Ferentz and wrestling coach Tom Brands, testified that Meyer shut him out of the process when he wanted improvements made to his on-campus stadium. Heller said the result was construction that didn’t meet the needs of the team.

In particular, Heller said new infield turf installed in 2014 was so shoddy that some of it had to replaced. Outfield turf put in the next year was at the wrong angle. And, worst of all, the new outfield fence that he wanted built 8-10 feet closer to home plate as a way to boost home run totals actually ended up being farther away in left-center and right-center field. Heller said the architects later told him that Meyer never mentioned his desires in meetings that he was told not to attend.

Heller began his job in July 2013 with promises that he could immediately embark on a fundraising campaign to build a new stadium he estimated to cost $20 million. He asked Meyer for an architect’s rendering he could show potential donors. He said he never got one, until after her reassignment. Then, he had one within two months. Heller also said he’s now able to attend meetings with architects and contractors.

Taylor was the first witness to testify Monday, on his first official day of work at Kansas State. Barta previously hired him to fill a newly created deputy athletic director position at Iowa. Barta told Meyer he didn’t consider her a candidate for that role, which was the new second in command in his department. She had previously held that rank, at a salary $70,000 less than Taylor was paid. That is the basis for her unequal pay claim.

Taylor’s first day of work at Iowa was Aug. 4, 2014, the same day that Barta fired Griesbaum. Taylor was in that afternoon’s staff meeting when Barta made the announcement and explained his reasoning. Barta has said it was a pattern of complaints from field hockey players and parents about abusive behavior by Griesbaum that drove his decision. Griesbaum is suing for gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

Taylor said Meyer became angry in the staff meeting, questioning why she wasn’t informed of the Griesbaum decision before the others.

“I would call it unprofessional,” Taylor said of Meyer’s attitude toward Barta. “I’ve never talked to anybody in my entire career like that. It was uncomfortable for everybody in the room. I just remember the tension in the room was very, very high.”

Taylor later pulled his new boss aside for a quick conversation.

“’Gary, if I were you, I’d fire her,’” he said he told Barta.

Taylor said he wasn’t surprised when Barta didn’t terminate Meyer’s employment at that moment.

“He’s not an over-reactor,” Taylor said.