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Archive for May 3, 2017

May 3, 2017 — The drama begins

At noon today, a jury of eight in Polk County, Iowa is to receive the employment discrimination case that Jane Meyer, a former athletic administrator at the University of Iowa, filed against the university. In the claim, Meyer accused the university of demoting and firing her shortly after the firing of head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum weeks before the start of the 2014 season.

The closing arguments in this antidiscrimination trial, as reported in local newspapers, are somewhat telling to me.

For one, both assistant Iowa Attorney General George Carroll, and Tom Newkirk, one of Meyer’s attorneys, used more or less the same statement in their argument: “This case is not about Tracey Griesbaum.”

But both attorneys have unwittingly brought up a pretty sizable elephant that has been in the courtroom the last several weeks: the relationship between Griesbaum and Meyer. It was nearly 10 years, in the same courthouse in Iowa City, when a court ruled in favor of six same-sex couples in the Varnum v. Brien case. That case was the one which eventually made Iowa the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Since then, however, there has been a backlash against the judges in that case, and, despite overwhelming support for marriage equality in Iowa in opinion polling, the state is predominantly conservative.

I believe that, especially in an administrative law case such as this, where the legal standard is different from what is found in most courtrooms, that a jury could be swayed by social biases, or they could be swayed by the story of discriminatory practices in the way that Iowa treats male and female coaches.

And that brings up Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who, like Griesbaum, is not on trial here. But he might as well have been, especially when it was pointed out that, when Barta confronted both Meyer and Griesbaum in separate conversations in 2014, his first question was about their relationship.

But what I also read was a sense of bullying on the part of men in the Iowa athletics department. Football coach Kirk Ferentz, a man who is alleged to have worked his players so hard they developed muscle conditions from overtraining, once expressed outrage over some drawings and mockups of the football team’s practice facility.

Carroll, the lawyer for the university, uttered this during the summations:

Football drives the revenue engine at the University of Iowa.

I’m hoping that the eight people in that jury room are seeing that statement for what it is: a play for power by one sport at the expense of others at the university, and legal protections winnowed away by the good old boys at Iowa, the Supreme Court be damned.

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