University of Iowa Pays $6.5M to Settle Bias Claims

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By Michael J. Bologna

The University of Iowa will pay $6.5 million to settle two lawsuits alleging discrimination and retaliation targeting a gay athletics administrator and her partner, a long-time coach at the school, the university said May 19.

Jane Meyer, a former senior associate athletic director at Iowa, and Tracey Griesbaum, Iowa’s former women’s field hockey coach, agreed to settle their claims against the Iowa Athletics Department, ending a pair of headline-grabbing state court lawsuits.

The settlements come two weeks after Meyer won a $1.4 million jury verdict against Iowa. Meyer had alleged she was fired and suffered retaliation because of her gender, sexual orientation and her relationship with Griesbaum. Griesbaum’s lawsuit, containing similar allegations of discrimination and retaliation, had been scheduled for trial on June 4.

Under the agreements, Iowa will provide $3.9 million to Meyer and $2.6 million to Griesbaum. Meyer and Griesbaum also agreed to withdraw their actions, including Meyer’s federal lawsuit against Iowa and expected post-trial petitions. Under Iowa’s pay equity law, back wages can be tripled in cases in which the defendant’s conduct is deemed willful--a factor that was expected to inflate the jury’s original $1.4 million verdict.

Settlement Called Historic

“This historic settlement with the University of Iowa follows a landmark jury verdict and award, and it plants a firm stake in the ground for equity and opportunity in women’s athletics across the country,” Jill Zwagerman, counsel for the two women, said in a statement.

Zwagerman’s law firm, the Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa, will receive $2.6 million under the two settlements.

The university described the resolution of the litigation as part of a process aimed at restoring integrity to the Iowa athletics department. Iowa is also undertaking a broader review of equal opportunity policies and programs throughout the university.

“Having reached agreements with Ms. Griesbaum and Ms. Meyer, the university will continue to focus on next steps,” the university said in a statement. “As previously announced, the University of Iowa will hire an independent firm(s) to conduct an external review of university employment practices. The reviews will include three phases; phase one will cover the UI Athletics Department, phase two will include UI academic and operational units, and phase three will focus on UI Health Care.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Bologna in Chicago at mbologna@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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