IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is facing a wide-ranging federal civil rights investigation into allegations that its athletic department does not provide equal opportunities for female athletes, correspondence obtained by the Associated Press shows.
The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is looking into gender bias allegations in 13 areas, including how the department counts participation levels, awards scholarships, schedules practices and games and delivers services such as tutoring, medical attention, housing and dining. A team of investigators will visit the Iowa City campus in April, according to documents released Thursday under the open records law.
The department’s equipment, locker rooms and facilities are also part of the review, which comes as its men’s basketball and football teams have been enjoying high national rankings.
If discrimination is found, the investigation could result in a settlement requiring the university to change policies, spend more money on women’s athletics or even add another women’s sport. But the review could take years, and a school lawyer told the federal agency in December that she believes an investigation will show Iowa “strives to provide male and female students an equal opportunity to participate.”
At least one other Big Ten school, Minnesota, is facing a similar investigation by the civil rights office, which enforces the law known as Title IX that bars sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal aid.
Iowa has provided thousands of documents in response to investigators’ request for 41 categories of records. Investigators plan to interview Athletic Director Gary Barta, administrators, coaches and athletes on all 24 of Iowa’s teams during the weeklong visit beginning April 11. Iowa offers its roughly 800 student-athletes a great experience and looks “forward to sharing information about our programs and values,” Barta said in a statement.
The civil rights office opened an initial investigation into the athletic department in May in response to a complaint filed by four women’s field hockey team members.
They contended that Barta ignored their concerns about his decision to fire their coach, Tracey Griesbaum, which they argue was based on gender stereotypes and hurt the team’s competitiveness. That complaint is still pending. Barta has said Griesbaum was fired over concerns about how she treated players.
Separately, Griesbaum is expected to file a discrimination lawsuit over her termination. And her partner, former Senior Associate Athletic Director Jane Meyer, already filed a lawsuit alleging she was unfairly reassigned to a different department after Griesbaum’s firing and paid less than the man whom Barta hired to replace her. Meyer was in charge of ensuring equal opportunities for female athletes.
The second federal complaint was filed in September and stemmed from the first, according to Tom Newkirk, whose Des Moines law firm assisted with both and is representing Griesbaum and Meyer.
Newkirk said the second complaint, which is being kept confidential by the federal government, alleges Barta has kept dozens of unnecessary players on the women’s rowing roster to avoid the expense of having to add another women’s sport.
“That’s allowed him to plow more money into football and basketball,” he said.
The Department of Education rejected the university’s request for the 29-page document under the Freedom of Information Act, saying its disclosure could interfere with the investigation.
“We still don’t know the basis for the complaint, which is concerning for us. We do not believe we are being accorded due process,” university lawyer Carroll Reasoner wrote to a federal official last month. She’s appealing the Department of Education’s decision to withhold the document.
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