Former University of Iowa athletics administrator wins $1.43 million in Title IX lawsuit

This is a ‘landmark’ victory for women in sports.

Jane Meyer, former senior associate athletic director at the University of Iowa, gets a hug from her partner Tracey Griesbaum, right. CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Jane Meyer, former senior associate athletic director at the University of Iowa, gets a hug from her partner Tracey Griesbaum, right. CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

At last, Jane Meyer gets to celebrate a victory.

The former senior associate athletic director at the University of Iowa sued the university for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, whistleblower violations, and unequal pay. On Thursday, she was awarded $1.43 million in damages from a Polk County jury.

“This is for everyone and anyone who has fought discrimination,” Meyer said after the verdict was announced, as reported by the Des Moines Register.

“It’s much bigger than Jane Meyer.”

Her attorney echoed that sentiment.

“This is a landmark case in gender discrimination as well as in athletics,” said Jill Zwagerman, attorney for Meyer. “Jane Meyer is premier in her knowledge of Title IX, and when she complained that women and especially gay women were being treated differently from their male counterparts in the athletic department, the university removed her from athletics and then fired her.”

Meyer began working at Iowa in 2001, when she was hired by then-athletics director Bob Bowlsby as the senior women’s administrator. She was the second-in-command in that department, and Bowlsby gave her excellent performance reviews and indications that she would be able to run her own athletic department some day.

But everything changed when Bowlsby left the school in 2006 and Gary Barta became athletics director. The Des Moines Register detailed how things began to unravel:

[Barta] 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.

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.

At the end of 2014, Meyer gave Barta a memo outlining the gender discrimination she had witnessed and experienced in the department. The following day she was reassigned to another program at the university, away from the athletics community she loved.

While opportunities for athletes at the collegiate level have dramatically increased throughout the years, opportunities for women in coaching and administrative roles have dramatically decreased. It seems the more popular women’s sports get, the more attractive those jobs get to men. In 1973, the year after Title IX became federal law, 90 percent of NCAA women’s sports teams had female coaches. Today, that number is 43 percent.

Last year, an investigation by Reveal for the Center for Investigative Reporting found that female coaches and athletic administrators who report gender or sexual orientation discrimination in their departments are often fired or forced out of their departments.

The investigation focused in on the University of Iowa, where beloved field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum — who happens to be Meyer’s partner — was fired without explanation in 2014 after the university informed her that players had accused her of being verbally abusive. The allegations, which a university investigation found “insufficient evidence” of, surfaced after Griesbaum complained about discrimination.

Griesbaum is suing the university for unlawful termination, and Griesbaum’s former players have filed a Title IX suit against the university.

The university, which said in a one-sentence statement that it is “disappointed by the jury’s decision,” is expected to appeal the Meyer verdict. Barta is still the school’s athletic director.

The judge awarded Meyer $374,000 for back pay, $444,000 for past emotional distress, and $612,000 for future emotional distress.

Her attorneys are seeking $2 million more from the judge — a reimbursement of Meyer’s legal fees and a tripling of back pay, which Iowa law permits since the jury found that the school’s actions were “willful.”

It turns out, sexism and homophobia is expensive.

The Meyer case could set a precedent that encourages more women in athletics coaching and administration to come forward with their stories of discrimination.

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