IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The University of Iowa will pay $6.5 million to settle high-profile discrimination lawsuits filed by former athletic administrator Jane Meyer and her partner, former women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, according to settlements released Friday.
Iowa will pay $2.33 million to Meyer, $1.49 million to Griesbaum and $2.68 million to Newkirk Zwagerman, the Des Moines law firm that represented both women. In exchange, Meyer and Griesbaum will drop their lawsuits and requests for reinstatement.
The deal ends litigation that has prompted criticism of Athletic Director Gary Barta’s management and has been closely watched by advocates for gender equity in college athletics. Meyer had served as Iowa’s senior associate athletic director for 13 years, while Griesbaum had led the largely successful field hockey program for 14 seasons.
A Polk County jury earlier this month found that school officials illegally discriminated against Meyer based on her gender and sexual orientation, retaliated against her for speaking out and paid her less than deputy athletic director Gene Taylor. Jurors awarded Meyer $1.45 million in damages in what advocates for women in college athletics called a landmark verdict.
Meyer’s damages were expected to grow during post-trial motions but the settlement avoids further litigation over those issues. Meyer will also drop a separate federal lawsuit that’s pending.
The settlement avoids a June 5 trial in the lawsuit brought by Griesbaum, whose 2014 firing by Barta was at the heart of both women’s cases. That trial had promised to be messy as Griesbaum’s lawyers were planning to argue that Barta was quicker to fire gay, female coaches than their male counterparts.
Still, Iowa’s legal woes may not be over. An inquiry continues by the U.S. Department of Education into discrimination complaints filed by former female athletes who were outraged by Griesbaum’s firing. University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has also announced that the school would hire an outside firm to review its employment practices, starting with the athletics department.
Testimony at Meyer’s trial showed that Barta hired Taylor into a new position to take over some of Meyer’s duties — at a salary $70,000 higher than hers — after telling Meyer he had lost confidence in her.
On Taylor’s first day in August 2014, Barta terminated Griesbaum without cause weeks before her season was to begin, paying a $200,000 buyout. Barta said he acted over concerns about Griesbaum’s harsh treatment of some players, even though a university investigation found no policy violations. Meyer was infuriated by the firing, blasting Barta in front of other employees.
Meyer and Griesbaum had been in a relationship for 10 years in which they lived together but weren’t married. They had disclosed their relationship years earlier to a university official, who told them it didn’t conflict with policy because Meyer wasn’t Griesbaum’s supervisor. But they said that they kept it largely quiet, in part to avoid challenges in recruiting.
In December 2014, Barta transferred Meyer to a university job outside athletics, saying she couldn’t remain in the department while her partner was threatening a lawsuit. Meyer was laid off last year after her job was eliminated.
At trial, the university painted Meyer as a difficult employee who became a workplace disruption after Griesbaum’s firing. Football Coach Kirk Ferentz and Wrestling Coach Tom Brands testified about some problems they had with her. But Barta largely failed to document any performance concerns he had with Meyer.