Four Iowa field hockey players have filed a rare Title IX complaint against their current school, alleging gender discrimination in the firing of their former coach, Tracey Griesbaum. The federal complaint was filed to the U.S. Department of Education as well as the Chicago branch of the Office of Civil Rights.
Sophomores Chandler Ackers and Jessy Silfer, junior Natalie Cafone and senior Dani Hemeon allege that Griesbaum was fired in August for using the same coaching methods employed by male coaches at Iowa. Griesbaum had won 169 games in 14 years at the school, and had gone 42-20 the past three years.
When reached for comment about the Title IX complaint, athletic director Gary Barta and a representative of Iowa's general counsel provided a joint statement that the school "has not received any notice of such a complaint nor its contents." When provided with basic details of the complaint, a school official reiterated the above statement.
Later Thursday, Iowa spokesman Joe Brennan said the school is waiting to learn whether the Office of Civil Rights will open an investigation. He also reiterated that Iowa has not received any correspondence from that office.
"The University of Iowa has not been contacted by the Office of Civil Rights," Brennan said. "As we understand from a report in the media, a Title IX complaint was filed on January 28. We don't know if OCR will choose to investigate the complaint. We do want to reiterate that Tracey Griesbaum's employment as head coach of the UI field hockey program was not terminated based on her gender."
In early May, two anonymous players lodged a complaint with the athletic department, alleging bullying, verbal harassment and intimidation by Griesbaum and her coaching staff, as well as an inappropriate relationship between Griesbaum and another athletic department official.
Barta initiated an investigation, which, according to Barta's own emails, found no wrongdoing. "How shall we/I respond to the person who originally complained? My thought was to send an email indicating the inquiry has been completed," he wrote to the two investigators on July 15. And then later, Barta wrote to them, "Should I indicate no policy violations found? -- but areas to improve upon?"
On July 21, Barta emailed Griesbaum and thanked her for her patience and professionalism throughout the process. "My goal is to move forward and make a very good program even stronger," Barta said in the email. "I want to make sure expectations are clear for all parties involved so we can continue to achieve great success and student-athletes can have a terrific experience."
Then, on Aug. 1, Barta received the final internal investigation report, which said there was "insufficient evidence presented to substantiate a violation of university policy" and no prohibited relationship with Griesbaum and her longtime partner, former senior associate AD Jane Meyer. (In December, the school announced that Meyer had been reassigned out of the athletic department.) The report cited Griesbaum and her staff for creating an environment in which several student-athletes felt intimidated and pressured to play injured, but said "the evidence does not rise to the level of a policy violation related to harassment."
Three days later, Barta terminated Griesbaum's contract. Longtime assistant Lisa Cellucci took over and guided the Hawkeyes to an 11-7 season that included a first-round exit from the Big Ten tournament.
The Office of Civil Rights will decide whether to launch a Title IX investigation.