Jane Meyer lawsuit against University of Iowa heads to jury

Mark Emmert

An eight-member Polk County jury will begin deliberations Wednesday in a lawsuit that laid bare the inner workings of the University of Iowa athletic department.

At issue is whether longtime 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.

Testimony concluded Tuesday, on the 12th day of the trial at the Polk County Courthouse. The jury of five women and three men will receive instructions from District Court Judge Michael Huppert on Wednesday morning, followed by closing arguments from the attorneys. 

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

Meyer, 57, is accusing the university of violating her civil rights as a gay woman, and for retaliating against her when she raised questions about gender bias in the athletic department. She also has a claim for unequal pay based on a man being brought in to perform some of her duties at a higher salary. She is seeking lost wages and damages for emotional distress.

The jury will consider each of those accusations and will have six hours to reach unanimous verdicts. After that, at least seven jurors must agree in order to return a decision. If that doesn’t happen, it will be considered a hung jury. Huppert ruled that the verdict will be sealed, meaning it won’t be revealed in open court.

The defense, led by assistant attorney general George Carroll, rested its case after 2 ½ days of testimony with a final witness who leveled pointed criticism of Meyer’s behavior.

Liz Hollingworth, a University of Iowa professor of education who also serves as chairwoman of the school’s Presidential Committee on Athletics, described several troubling episodes she had in her dealings with Meyer. Meyer served as a liaison to the equity subcommittee that Hollingworth led.

That committee endeavors to interview each Hawkeye head coach every three years, in closed-door meetings intended to allow the coaches to speak freely about any concerns they have, particularly relating to gender equity. Hollingworth recalled an instance when an unspecified coach said it was “impossible” that there were gay athletes on his or her team. Upon hearing that, Hollingworth said Meyer went directly to the coach to question the assertion, which Hollingworth labeled a breach of confidentiality.

“I was very disappointed,” Hollingworth said, questioning whether such interviews with coaches could ever be confidential as long as athletic department staff members sat in on PCA meetings.

Hollingworth said she didn’t find out that Meyer was in a long-term relationship with field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum until nearly three months after Griesbaum was fired in August 2014. In the meantime, there had been two PCA meetings at which the firing was discussed with Meyer present.

“I was very confused,” Hollingworth said of that discovery. “It made a few things make sense. I was surprised I hadn’t been told.”

Hollingworth said Meyer would occasionally weigh in on the need for upgrades to the field hockey facilities, and she had found it odd that other sports weren’t getting that same support.

“It would have made me ask questions about why,” Hollingworth said.

Hollingworth said Meyer came to the October 2014 equity subcommittee meeting with copies of a report showing how much money was being spent on each sport at Iowa, even though that information had not been requested. She said Meyer handed those out, telling the committee members: “This is something I’m giving you because it’s discoverable in court.”

Tracey Griesbaum

Hollingworth said she later inferred that Meyer was speaking of a threatened lawsuit by Griesbaum. Griesbaum did later sue the university for unlawful termination. That trial is scheduled for June 5.

Finally, Hollingworth spoke of a private meeting in Meyer’s office during which, she said, Meyer gave her a list of lesbian coaches at Iowa and implored her to interview them about any potential discrimination.

“Do these women know that you’re essentially outing them?” Hollingworth said she asked Meyer, mortified by what she was hearing.

Hollingworth met the next morning with athletic director Gary Barta and told him what happened. She also asked that Meyer no longer attend meetings of her committee.

“I believe she has an agenda and she’s trying to hijack our meetings,” Hollingworth said to Barta.

Nevertheless, she said her committee did interview the coaches and “found nothing.”

On cross-examination by Meyer’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, Hollingworth said she didn’t put any record of her conversation with Meyer in writing. She said she wrote the four names on a napkin, which she later discarded.

Meyer was brought back to the stand as the lone rebuttal witness in the case. She emphatically denied making the “discoverable in court” comment or asking Hollingworth to interview gay coaches. She said she never saw Hollingworth writing anything down and noted that there weren’t any napkins available in her office. 

Meyer also spoke of her difficulties finding work in athletics after she was reassigned in December 2014. She estimated that she had applied for 25 jobs, mainly as athletic director, in the previous five years, with the help of national search firms. She had even been a finalist for several — at Illinois State, Delaware, Rutgers, Pennsylvania and Washington University of St. Louis, among others — but had never been offered a job.

After Barta removed her from her post as senior associate athletic director at Iowa, Meyer said those opportunities dried up.

Meyer and Griesbaum recently moved to Des Moines, unsure of their future. Meyer said she has applied for two jobs in the city — at Home Depot and Lowe’s.