At issue was whether longtime University of Iowa employee Jane Meyer lost her job because of a culture of discrimination or over concerns that she had become combative with her supervisor and no longer able to work effectively with colleagues. Iowa City Press-Citizen
The attorneys made their final appeals Wednesday in the Jane Meyer lawsuit against the University of Iowa — ratcheting up the rhetoric throughout the morning — and an eight-person Polk County jury was finally left alone to sort out 11 days of testimony.
The jury began its deliberations at 12:10 p.m. and is being asked to rule on five claims by the Hawkeyes’ former senior associate athletic director:
- Was Meyer removed from her role and ultimately fired, at least in part, because of her gender and sexual orientation?
- Was she the victim of retaliation after lodging complaints about unequal treatment of women in the athletic department? If so, is she also due damages under the state’s whistleblower statute?
- Did the university pay a man a higher salary to perform essentially the same duties Meyer did starting in August 2014?
Jurors adjourned for the day late Wednesday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Deliberations will continue Thursday.
Meyer is seeking lost wages and money for emotional distress over the way her career ended. The university has said it was within its rights to terminate Meyer as an “at-will” employee who had run afoul of some coaches and become a disruptive force after the August 2014 firing of her partner, field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.
Meyer’s attorney, Jill Zwagerman, was first to address the jurors Wednesday at the Polk County Courthouse. She urged the five women and three men to examine athletic director Gary Barta’s “pretext” for his decisions regarding Meyer, particularly her December 2014 removal the department.
At the time, Barta publicly stated that he reassigned Meyer because of the threat of a lawsuit by Griesbaum. He said it was not for disciplinary reasons and that she would be allowed to return to athletics “once the matter is resolved.” She never did, eventually being removed from Iowa’s payroll last September.
“They spent the (last) week telling you about all the awful things Jane did,” Zwagerman said of defense testimony that Meyer’s job performance was subpar. “The transfer was either disciplinary or it wasn’t. That’s a way that employers use to cover up their real motives.”
Zwagerman said that real motive is that Barta was uncomfortable with the Meyer-Griesbaum relationship, particularly after Meyer started raising questions of bias in his department. Meyer’s pleas for an investigation went unheeded, Zwagerman said.
“What are they hiding?” she asked the jury.
Assistant attorney general George Carroll laid out the state’s defense for the jury, starting by reminding them that the trial was not about Griesbaum. Her lawsuit against the university is scheduled to start June 5. Meyer’s attorneys repeatedly tried to tie the fate of the two women together, saying they were both undone by an undercurrent of discrimination in the athletic department.
Carroll pointed out that Griesbaum had a standard coaching contract with Iowa that allowed for her dismissal without cause and entitled her to $200,000 if that happened.
“Miss Griesbaum took the money,” Carroll said.
Carroll said Meyer was reassigned from sports after a tense autumn in which “she was taking notes and disrupting the workplace” while laying the groundwork for her lawsuit. Carroll said that began with the Aug. 4, 2014, staff meeting at which Barta announced the Griesbaum firing.
“He made a difficult decision. He terminated a successful coach,” Carroll said. “She challenged his integrity.”
Carroll dismissed suggestions that Meyer was mistreated because she is a gay woman as “conspiracy theories.” He denied an anti-gay culture existed in the department, pointing to three lesbian couples that were welcomed.
When Iowa didn’t renew the contracts of two previous gay coaches, Meyer never objected, Carroll said. It was only when Griesbaum was terminated that her complaints arose.
Thomas Newkirk, another of Meyer’s lawyers, got the last word in a rebuttal of Carroll’s claims. He repeatedly portrayed Barta as a duplicitous leader who surrounded himself with “yes people.”
“I’m not accusing Barta of being a serious homophobe,” Newkirk said. “Barta is a politician who pushes things away that he doesn’t want next to him.”
At some point, that became Meyer, Newkirk said.
Newkirk said complaints from Iowa coaches about Meyer “border on childish.” Kirk Ferentz (football), Tom Brands (wrestling) and Rick Heller (baseball) all testified that Meyer was an impediment during facility upgrades.
“They don’t remember the thousands of great things she did,” Newkirk said of Meyer’s 13-year tenure.
He suggested that Iowa’s actions had been aimed at “dehumanizing” Meyer.
“Your opportunity is to humanize her again through your verdict,” Newkirk said. “Iowa is better than this.”