By Molly Hunter
The University of Iowa’s logistical strategist and project manager Jane Meyer will be terminated by the University of Iowa this week. But Meyer has been fighting the decision for almost a year.
Meyer filed a lawsuit against the UI, the state Board of Regents, and the state of Iowa on Nov. 4, 2015, after she was reassigned to her current duties from her former position as senior associate athletics director in December 2014. According to a statement provided by UI Assistant Vice President Jeneane Beck, Meyer’s current job entails coordinating the move into the new Visual Arts Building and the Voxman Music Building. Now that the moves have been completed, the UI statement indicates the university will eliminate her position. Meyer was formally notified in June that she would no longer be employed starting Sept. 9.
Meyer’s lawsuit claims she was the subject of wage discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation while working in the Athletics Department.
“Essentially, she is being paid $70,000 less than a male doing similar work,” Jill Zwagerman, Meyer’s attorney, said about her first position.
Zwagerman says she filed an injunction request in July to halt Meyer’s termination, but this request was dismissed by Judge John Huppert in 5th District court on Aug. 26.
“It was denied on a procedural issue. The court interpreted the statute to essentially state that if Jane wanted to bring an injunction, she had to bring the underlying whistleblower claim,” Zwagerman told The Daily Iowan.
An amended version of the injunction request has since been submitted.
Meyer’s termination comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by her longtime partner and former Hawkeye head field-hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, who was fired in August 2014. Griesbaum’s lawsuit for wrongful termination against the UI, the regents, and the state was filed on March 7. In it, she contends that Athletics Director Gary Barta treated female coaches unfairly. Barta did not respond to DI requests for comment.
Meyer and Griesbaum publicly disclosed their relationship after Griesbaum’s termination. In her lawsuit, Meyer said she cleared their relationship through the UI Human Resources Department several years ago. While Meyer had a higher position than Griesbaum in the department, because she wasn’t her direct supervisor, their relationship did not qualify as a conflict of interest.
According to the UI statement, however, “Under those circumstances, leaving Ms. Meyer in her at-will position … presented many challenges for the department and the university’s defense of Ms. Griesbaum’s litigation.”
The UI operations manual’s definition of at-will status is that it “applies to a staff member whose administrative, policymaking, leadership, or other responsibilities make it inappropriate to confer career status in the position … Staff members who are appointed at-will may be terminated at any time unless as specified …”
About Meyer’s job reassignment due to her relationship with Griesbaum, Zwagerman said, “There’s a U.S. Supreme Court case that … says that’s retaliation.”
Meyer’s job reassignment also came a day after she filed a complaint with Barta about gender discrimination in the Athletics Department. She contends in her lawsuit that her job reassignment was an act of retaliation for speaking up about gender inequality, which was, Zwagerman said, part of her job.
“[Meyer was] required by the NCAA and, I think, by Title IX … to bring attention to gender inequities,” Zwagerman said. “She did that over the course of her employment … It was her duty to bring that to Mr. Barta’s attention.”
The UI statement maintains that Meyer’s job reassignment and termination were not acts of retaliation.
Griesbaum’s lawsuit alleges that, since his 2006 appointment, Barta and his administration have been responsible for the departures of six other women from the department. The lawsuit cites Meyer and former Hawkeye volleyball coach Sharon Dingman among those women. Again, Barta could not be reached for comment.
“It is true that my contract was not renewed and [that] I was the fourth woman to be forced to leave Iowa in my six years there, so it makes sense that I’m included in that group,” Dingman wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.
Dingman was let go in January 2014, but she soon found work at the University of Chicago; she has been its head volleyball coach since March 2014.
Zwagerman said it is unlikely that Meyer or Griesbaum will be able to find other jobs in athletics.
“I think there’s an epidemic around the county with universities putting up with female administrators or female coaches, but the minute they speak up … they’re terminated,” she said. “Very rarely are they hired again. If they speak out and actually try to protect their rights … if they go public at all with it … their careers are essentially over.”
While the DI reached out to several people in the UI Athletics Department for comment, including Barta, the only response it received was the statement provided by Beck.