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Former field hockey coach files discrimination suit against Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A lawsuit filed Monday accuses Iowa athletic director Gary Barta of unfairly removing female coaches and the top women's sports administrator during a decade-long tenure stained by gender bias.

Backed by several former Hawkeye coaches, the lawsuit by fired women's field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum asks a judge to order her reinstatement and to require the university to take steps to ensure female coaches are treated the same as their male counterparts.

While the filing had been expected, the 26-page complaint provides the most details yet of alleged discrimination at a university that had once been a national leader in women's athletic equality. It alleges that six female coaches in sports from volleyball to softball and the department's most powerful woman, senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, have been forced out under Barta.

After Barta succeeded Bob Bowlsby in 2006, the department "began a pattern of undermining, intimidating and terminating coaches as well as covering-up violations of the law to keep resources from women's programs," the lawsuit says.

Barta has repeatedly denied gender discrimination claims, arguing that most of the female coaches were fired for losing records and that he has fired three male coaches, too. He has said that he fired Griesbaum in 2014 after some former players claimed she verbally harassed and bullied them. The university found no policy violations and paid Griesbaum, who had a successful 14-year tenure, a $200,000 buyout required by her contract.

Barta has said that he reassigned Meyer, Griesbaum's partner, outside the department in December 2014 on the advice of legal counsel after Griesbaum was taking steps toward a lawsuit. Months earlier, he created a new deputy director position and filled it with Gene Taylor, who was brought in at a salary $70,000 more than Meyer.

Meyer has also filed suit, alleging discrimination and retaliation. They're both represented by Des Moines law firm Newkirk Zwagerman.

In a statement, the university denied Griesbaum's claims. "Director Barta holds all staff, student-athletes, and coaches accountable to the values of 'Win. Graduate. Do it Right','' the statement said.

The case comes at an awkward time for Iowa. Following recent success in football and men's basketball, university president Bruce Harreld in January extended Barta's contract through 2021 and gave him a big raise that will bring his total annual compensation to nearly $1 million.

Next month, investigators with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education will visit Iowa City as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into allegations that female athletes have not been provided equal opportunities.

Griesbaum's lawsuit alleges Barta retaliated against female coaches who requested better facilities or challenged the administration. It claims that Barta overreacted to complaints of athletes toward female coaches while ignoring worse behavior by men.

While poor records have been cited to justify firing females, Barta for years retained male coaches in struggling baseball, tennis and track programs, the lawsuit says. Fired female coaches in programs such as rowing and volleyball were replaced with men.

Iowa had been a leader in women's equality under Christine Grant, who led the women's athletic department until her retirement in 2000. The men's and women's departments were merged then to save money, but a task force recommended steps to maintain gender equity. They included always having one male and one female administrator in the department's top two positions, a recommendation that had been followed until Barta hired Taylor in 2014.

The lawsuit asks the university to create a "coaching methods handbook" to ensure coaches are judged by the same standards and to provide training on biases and stereotypes that impact female coaches' treatment. Griesbaum, 50, hasn't found another coaching job.