By Blake Dowson
DES MOINES — Jane Meyer sat in the witness stand Thursday afternoon, fighting back tears, as she described what the atmosphere was like in the University of Iowa Athletics Department in the summer of 2014, when her partner, Tracey Griesbaum, was being investigated and was later fired in August.
Meyer contended it felt like she was the one being investigated in 2014. After a complaint arrived on Athletics Director Gary Barta’s desk about Griesbaum abusing players verbally, he started an in-house investigation.
That investigation, Meyer contended, was one into her private life with Griesbaum and had nothing to do with field hockey. The first question she said she was asked in her two-plus hour interview during the investigation was whether she was in a relationship with Griesbaum.
“It doesn’t matter,” Meyer testified, noting the university’s nondiscrimination policy and her conversation with Sue Buckley, then the UI vice president for Human Resources, who had cleared their relationship. “It should have never been asked.”
She said she was asked about Griesbaum using the f-word toward her players and officials during field-hockey games, but Meyer couldn’t recall a time that her partner ever used that language.
When asked about Griesbaum’s “antics” as head field-hockey coach, she said she raised the question about how it related to the “antics” head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery and head wrestling coach Tom Brands had displayed during contests.
When Meyer was done with her interview on June 19 2014, she thought that was the end of the investigation. Four days later, on June 23, when she said Barta told her there had been no policy violations found, that thought was seemingly confirmed.
However, on Aug. 4 of that year, Griesbaum got a phone call from Barta, who called a meeting for 3 p.m. that day. At 3:15 p.m., Griesbaum walked into Meyer’s office and told her she had just been fired.
In a meeting with staffers to announce his decision to fire Griesbaum, he said his decision came “without cause,” Meyer said.
She, along with another staffer, challenged Barta on the decision. The next day, Meyer spoke with Barta about the firing of her partner and again challenged him on it.
“Your slogan is win, graduate, do it right. Why aren’t we doing the right thing?” Meyer recalled saying to Barta.
From that time in August until December of that year, Meyer said, she kept her head down and did her work, though she may not have been as engaging.
On Dec. 4, 2014, she decided to send Barta a memo on a number of gender-equity issues that had been building up, including the unequal pay between Deputy Athletics Director Gene Taylor and herself, and her treatment because of her sexual orientation.
The next day, when she handed the memo to Barta, Meyer said he told her he might not have time to read it.
Meyer was then told later that day by Barta in a meeting with Vice President for Human Resources Kevin Ward that she was being placed on administrative leave, citing her relationship with Griesbaum, the impending lawsuit that Griesbaum was going to file because of her firing, and the proximity of Meyer’s office to his.
The afternoon was spent detailing specific examples of times Meyer felt Barta discriminated against her or other females in the Athletics Department.
The morning session saw Meyer lay a foundation of her decaying relationship with Barta over the years, as well as a testimony from Donna Lopiano, an expert in sport-management best practices and a former women’s athletics director at the University of Texas.
In a healthy relationship between an athletics director and a senior associate (as Barta and Meyer were), “there is synergy between both parties,” Lopiano said.
In terms of working together on making decisions in the Athletics Department, Lopiano said Meyer was “expected to agree or remain silent.”
Before Lopiano took the stand, the morning started with Meyer answering questions on the stand about the man who was hired to essentially replace her, Taylor.
When he was hired as the new deputy athletics director, he was given a number of Meyer’s responsibilities, including day-to-day operations of the men’s basketball and football teams.
Meyer said Taylor wasn’t doing much compared with what she had previously done under that same job description and not close to the amount of work to justify his $245,000 starting salary — almost $80,000 more than she was paid.
Meyer claimed every time she walked into Taylor’s office, he was watching ESPN. “I don’t have time to watch ESPN,” she recalled thinking at the time.
Meyer, who has yet to be cross-examined, will be back on the stand today. It is expected that Barta will also testify on Friday.