IOWA CITY – Gary Barta still believes in the decisions he made which led to the University of Iowa athletics department he leads having to pay $6.5 million in May to settle two discrimination lawsuits.
Barta spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since an agreement was reached with former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer and former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum to settle gender and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits.
The agreement reached on May 19 avoided additional litigation after a Polk County District Court jury ruled unanimously that Meyer was removed from her position because of gender and sexual orientation bias and awarded her $1.4 million.
“Obviously, when we made our decisions, we felt like we were in the right,’’ Barta said. “The jury decision was not what we expected, certainly not what we wanted, and at this point we are moving forward.’’
Barta said the decision to settle with the two former employees will not impact the self-supporting athletic department’s day-to-day operations.
“It won’t affect our sports teams, our student-athletes or our coaches,’’ Barta said.
The settlement also did not impact taxpayers. Under a mandate from the Board of Regents, Iowa’s athletic department has received no taxpayer dollars for more than a decade.
The $6.5 million paid to Meyer and Griesbaum was paid entirely through athletic department reserves, dollars set aside for use on unbudgeted expenses.
Barta indicated more than $3 million remains in the reserve fund, although he expects the department to begin working to grow that figure back above $10 million over the next few years.
Beginning his 12th year as the athletics director at Iowa, Barta said he continues to believe the decisions that he ultimately made after consultation with other administrators were the right calls.
“I am very confident with the decisions that we made and that I made,’’ Barta said. ”Tactically, I suppose you could always think of things that could have been improved on, but I believe we did the right things.’’
Barta said at no time following the decision did he feel under any pressure to resign, saying support from university administrators throughout the situation has remained strong.
The day after the jury initially ruled in favor of Meyer in early May, university president Bruce Harreld asked for a review of the university’s employment practices beginning with the athletics department.
Barta said that review remains ongoing.
In the weeks since the settlement, he said he has been upfront with candidates for assistant coaching vacancies about the situation and has found none to be hesitant about seeking employment at Iowa.
“The people coming here know about Iowa. They know about the history of our institution and about the way we operate,’’ Barta said. “We have made changes in the last three of four years and the culture within our athletics department has never been better since my arrival in 2006 than it is today. I believe that we are in a good position to move forward.’’