IOWA CITY, Iowa — Four members of the Iowa women's field hockey team have filed a federal gender bias complaint against the school, saying the firing of their coach undermined the team's competitiveness.
Junior standout Natalie Cafone, sophomores Chandler Ackers and Jessy Silfer, and senior Dani Hemeon filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education last week, as first reported Thursday by ESPN. They say the firing of coach Tracey Griesbaum before the season is part of a pattern in which strong female coaches have faced discrimination and termination under Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.
Barta fired Griesbaum in August after an investigation into allegations of verbal abuse by some former players. The university has defended the firing, saying Barta took action to protect players, and repeatedly rejected allegations of gender bias.
University spokesman Joe Brennan said the school is waiting to learn whether the Office of Civil Rights will open an investigation. He said Iowa has not received any correspondence from that office.
"We do want to reiterate that Tracey Griesbaum's employment as head coach of the UI field hockey team was not terminated based on her gender," he said.
The complaint alleges that Griesbaum was fired because the university overreacted to allegations from a small number of players that shewas engaging in "bullying" and "intimidating" behavior.
The four players contend that they supported Griesbaum's coaching methods, which had made her highly successful coach during her 14-year tenure at Iowa, and they wouldn't have been a problem if she were a male coach.
"Female student athletes should be entitled to the same level of competitiveness experienced by males and ... should not be coddled or dismissed as secondary to male student athletes based on outdated or patronizing views of the role of women," the complaint reads.
The complaint asks for an investigation into how the school's response to player complaints "has placed not only a number of female coaches at risk, but threatens to undermine the competitive experience of other female student athletes." It was drafted by Des Moines attorney Thomas Newkirk, who is representing Griesbaum and considering a wrongful termination lawsuit on her behalf.
The team finished 11-7 last season under interim coach Lisa Cellucci, a longtime Griesbaum assistant. Cafone was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American.
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