On May 4, an eight-person jury decided in favor of former University of Iowa Senior Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer, who contended that the UI had discriminated against her because of her gender and sexual orientation. The jury awarded Meyer $1.43 million.
On Dec. 4, 2014, Meyer sent Athletics Director Gary Barta a memo addressing a variety of gender-equity issues such as unequal pay and unfair treatment because of her sexual orientation. On Dec. 5, 2014, Barta put Meyer on administrative leave, ultimately leading to Meyer’s reassignment to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a project manager and logistical strategist in April 2015. In November 2015, Meyer filed a suit against the UI, claiming to have been discriminated against as a gay woman in a relationship with former field-hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.
The Daily Iowan Editorial Board praises the jury’s decision and believes that it sets an important precedent for victims to be taken seriously. It is no secret that workplace discrimination is an actual problem. This has historically taken form in many different situations. For example, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, women earned an average of 83 percent of what men earned in 2015. On top of this, 1 in 4 women reported sexual harassment at work, according to a study done for ABC News and the Washington Post in 2011, in comparison to 1 in 10 men, another glaring example of gender discrimination in the workplace. In the case of Meyer, discrimination took the shape of removal from her position after she voiced her concerns.
On top of this, the DI Editorial Board believes that those in positions of authority need to be held responsible for their actions, regardless of their title or power. As one of the most public figures at the university, Barta plays an important role in its success. It is, therefore, even more important that someone of his stature understand the implications of his actions.
Compared with many athletics programs around the country and in the Big Ten, the UI’s has avoided major scandals. For example, at Minnesota, now-former Athletics Director Norwood Teague resigned in humiliation after the revelation that he had sexually harassed two female university employees, according to the Star-Tribune.
While it is impossible and senseless to compare the severity of NCAA scandals, the point remains that UI Athletics Department, as a whole, can use the Meyer case as a guide for the ramifications that come from unethical and unfair treatment of employees (and student-athletes, for what it’s worth). The DI Editorial Board hopes that potential ramifications are not what it takes to prevent discrimination and harassment, but it is important to have reminders of the severity of these actions in place.
The UI’s choice to hire an independent firm set to conduct a review of university employment practices based on the Iowa Civil Rights Act is specifically the type of action the Editorial Board would hope to see following the Meyer decision. The UI must now continue to prove its commitment to ending discrimination by treating recent actions as just a starting place, not a settling place.