Jane Meyer wins $1.43M in case against Iowa

Mark Emmert

A Polk County jury handed Jane Meyer a sweeping victory Thursday in her discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa, awarding her $1.43 million in damages.

The jury of five women and three men ruled in Meyer's favor on all five of her claims — gender and sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation and whisteblower violations, and unequal pay.

Former University of Iowa senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, left, gets a hug after giving a press conference on Thursday, May 4, 2017.  A Polk County jury awarded Meyer a victory in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa to the tune of $1.43 million.

Meyer, 57, was the senior associate athletic director at Iowa from 2001 to 2014, the highest-ranking woman in the department and second in command overall, until she was first reassigned and then terminated last September. Meyer said the moves effectively ended her career, and she accused her former boss, Gary Barta, of forcing her out because she was a gay woman who was outspoken about gender inequities in his department. She also balked when Barta, Iowa's athletic director, brought in a man in August 2014 to perform many of her duties at a salary $70,000 higher than the $176,000 per year she was making.

In a press conference, Meyer and her attorneys told reporters that the verdict should send a signal both to the University of Iowa and schools across the country about differences in treatment that women experience in college sports.

"Iowa is not unique," said attorney Tom Newkirk. "It's happening to hundreds of women around the country."

Meyer praised the results at the press conference, saying they would ultimately be good for the University of Iowa.

"This is a very pro-Iowa case," Meyer said. "My family are Iowa fans. This is about trying to make that university better.

"It's a matter of standing up to say, 'This is bigger, and we need the university to be better.'" 

The Iowa Attorney General's Office, which defended the state in the lawsuit, referred comment to the university. UI issued a one-sentence statement:

"The university is disappointed by the jury's decision."

Barta was not present at Thursday's monthly Presidential Committee on Athletics meeting on campus, which he typically attends. It was announced by a PCA spokeswoman that Barta was in Arizona attending a gathering of athletic directors.

Brooke Timmer, an Iowa employment lawyer who was not involved in the case, said seven-figure verdicts can be tough to win from Iowa jurors.

"It shows that the jury felt that there was a wrong that was committed and there was significant money that needed to be paid that rectified that," she said. 

Former University of Iowa senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer gets a hug from her mother, Thelma, after giving a press conference on Thursday, May 4, 2017.  A Polk County jury awarded Meyer a victory in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa to the tune of $1.43 million.

The jury awarded Meyer $444,000 for past emotional distress and $612,000 for future emotional distress.

Her attorneys will be seeking roughly $2 million more from the judge, which would include the university paying for Meyer's legal fees and a tripling of her $374,000 awarded for back pay.

Iowa law allows Meyer and her attorneys to ask a judge to triple the award for back pay because jurors found the university's actions were "willful," attorney Jill Zwagerman said.

Meyer's legal team will also ask the judge for an investigation into unequal treatment of men and women in the Iowa athletic department

The attorneys expect the university to appeal the verdict.

Jill Zwagerman, attorney for former University of Iowa senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, at right, discusses their satisfaction after a Polk County jury awarded Meyer a victory in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University.

Newkirk said that Meyer would also like to return to her job in the athletics department, which a judge could order as relief in the case.

"The question is whether or not she can do it safely," he said. "I don't know, does Mr. Barta need to leave?" 

Meyer filed her lawsuit in November 2015, at a time when she was working in the university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences helping with the final stages of recovery from the 2008 flood. Funding for that job ended last September and her employment was terminated.

"This is for everyone and anyone who has fought discrimination," Meyer said at a news conference in her attorney's offices, where jubilation reigned after the verdict was announced.

"It’s much bigger than Jane Meyer."

A Polk County jury awarded Jane Meyer a victory in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa. Meyer's job at the University of Iowa was terminated last September.

Meyer was hired at Iowa in 2001 by then-Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby as the senior women's administrator and second-in-command in the department. Bowlsby praised her in job reviews and stated that she had a good case for leading her own athletic department some day.

Bowlsby left for Stanford in 2006, and Barta was hired from Wyoming to be his replacement. He kept Meyer in her senior associate athletic director role but distrust began seeping into the working relationship. In 2011, for example, Barta said he wasn't comfortable with having Meyer represent the department during media inquiries into the rhabdomyolysis outbreak among 13 football players. Meyer testified that that undermined her authority.

Jane Meyer's case against Iowa largely centered on her strained relationship with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.

By 2013, Barta decided he wanted to create a new "deputy" position in his department and informed Meyer that he didn't consider her a qualified candidate. The job eventually went to Gene Taylor, who started work Aug. 4, 2014, at a salary $70,000 more than Meyer's. She objected both to being stripped of some of her key duties and also the pay disparity.

Taylor's first day of work was also the last for Tracey Griesbaum, Iowa's longtime field hockey coach and Meyer's partner. Barta fired Griesbaum after what he said was a pattern of reports of abusive behavior toward her athletes. A university inquiry into that had found no policy violations.

Meyer became extremely upset with the decision and protested loudly in a staff meeting. She testified that she maintained her professionalism but wanted to make sure her concerns were heard. Others in the meeting said Meyer crossed the line and could have been fired on the spot.

On Dec. 4, 2014, Meyer presented Barta with a memo outlining a number of her concerns about gender inequity in his department, including her own treatment. The next day Barta had her reassigned outside of athletics, stating it was because of a threatened lawsuit by Griesbaum. Meyer was told she would be able to return after "the matter is resolved." She never did.

Timmer, the employment lawyer, said she believed one of the most compelling pieces of evidence brought forward in the case was testimony about how starkly Meyer's career changed after Bowlsby left the department and Barta took over. 

"That struck me as kind of a pivotal aspect of it," she said. 

Both Newkirk and Zwagerman told reporters that the "landmark" verdict was challenging to win because the discrimination Meyer suffered was more subtle than seen in other lawsuits against schools. 

"When you have subtle biases like this, it puts all women at risk," Newkirk said. "It places all student-athletes at risk, both men and women … This isn't about just Jane or Tracey, it's about young women and young men going forward." 

Griesbaum's lawsuit for wrongful termination is scheduled to begin June 5.