UI planning outside investigation into employment practices

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Less than 24 hours after a jury declared that the University of Iowa athletic department was guilty of gender discrimination, the school announced that it will order an external review of its employment practices.

That process will begin with the athletic department, university president Bruce Harreld said Friday in a news release.

"Iowa will hire an independent firm to conduct an external review of university employment practices as defined by the Iowa Civil Rights Act," the release said.

The committee formed to select the firm will be made up of administrators, faculty, staff and students.

A Polk County jury Thursday afternoon found the university liable for discrimination, retaliation and unequal pay in a lawsuit brought by former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer.

Iowa will wait for post-trial motions to be concluded before deciding whether to appeal the $1.43 million judgement against it, the university announced earlier Friday. The school has 30 days to file an appeal.

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Meyer's attorneys indicated they will seek another $2 million in post-trial motions. That money would include attorney fees and a potential tripling of the $374,000 the jury awarded Meyer for lost wages. Meyer's lawyers, Thomas Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman, also said they will ask District Court Judge Michael Huppert to order an investigation of the UI athletic department for treating men and women unequally, and potentially for the reinstatement of Meyer's job.

The university can ask Huppert to set aside the verdict and order a new trial. Both sides will get to make their arguments at a hearing that Huppert will schedule.

Jury awards are typically paid out of Iowa's general fund. Newkirk and Zwagerman told reporters Thursday evening they hope that the university uses athletic department revenue to pay damages in this case, if the verdict stands.

Newkirk and Zwagerman told the Register on Friday they are skeptical of the university's announcement of a review of employment practices, calling it "a PR response to a serious problem."

Newkirk said Iowa already has the correct policies in place to address discrimination, but that its selective enforcement of them is the real issue. And that, he said, is due to "implicit biases" in the athletic department that result in women being treated unfairly.

"They're not really going to dig into it. They just effectively paid our firm almost three-quarters of a million dollars to do the investigation. We're glad to share that knowledge with them. It's a waste of public funds," Newkirk said.

"Maybe President Harreld means well. I hope he does. I'm not suggesting he doesn't. He needs to take a step back. You have to acknowledge the problem first, and I haven't heard anything from them that suggests they are doing that."

As part of their post-trial motions, Newkirk and Zwagerman plan to provide Iowa with a detailed remediation plan for rooting out what they see as gender and sexual orientation bias in the athletic department.

Meyer was the second-ranking member of the athletic department from 2001-14. She was transferred out of her job in December 2014 over concerns about a threatened lawsuit by her partner, Tracey Griesbaum.

Griesbaum was fired as Iowa's field hockey coach in August 2014. Her case is set for trial beginning June 5, with Newkirk and Zwagerman also representing her. Meyer's employment at Iowa ended last September.