IOWA CITY, Iowa – A mistake by state defense lawyers enabled the release of an email suggesting the University of Iowa athletics department was determined to hire a female for assistant track coach over qualified male candidates.
The Iowa Attorney General's Office, which is defending the university, inadvertently failed to mark as confidential the email and thousands of other university documents provided to attorneys for a male applicant who is suing the school for gender bias, spokesman Geoff Greenwood said Thursday.
Michael Scott, a former assistant on the Hawkeye track and field team, says he was repeatedly turned down for the job because he is a man. His claims were bolstered last week when his attorneys exclusively gave The Associated Press a copy of a 2013 email in which head track coach Layne Anderson told assistants there was a "mandate from the administration to hire a female" for the job regardless of qualifications.
Anderson wrote that one "ideal" male candidate had been rejected by the administration, and that the position description was rewritten in an effort to appeal more to female candidates. Scott, who was filling the position on an interim basis, claimed that the rewrite disqualified him because it sought a candidate with experience in distance running, which he didn't have.
The e-mail's disclosure intensified scrutiny of the department's hiring practices, which also face a federal inquiry into complaints that female coaches have been treated more harshly than male coaches under Athletic Director Gary Barta. The school has denied discriminating against Scott and painted its efforts as an attempt to recruit a diverse candidate pool for a staff that then had five all male coaches even though the team includes male and female athletes. A woman was later hired for the job.
Hours before AP published its story about Anderson's email last week, an assistant attorney general representing the university told one of Scott's lawyers to consider the document and others confidential.
"All documents produced are deemed confidential and should have been so marked in the Scott case," George Carroll wrote in an email obtained by AP under the public records law.
One of Scott's attorneys, Nate Borland, said Anderson's email could be made public because there is no protective order in the case that would require both sides to treat any records as confidential.
Such orders are common in civil litigation to protect the public disclosure of private information. The public and news media have a right to access court records but not to discovery information that is protected by such an order.
Borland said that he drafted a proposed protective order at Carroll's request earlier in the case, before the state turned over the records, but it hasn't been submitted to the court.
The attorney general's office agreed to the proposed order's terms, Greenwood said. Under the proposal, documents stamped confidential would only be released in limited circumstances, he said.
The office doesn't routinely seek protective orders, but they can be necessary to protect information that is legally required to remain confidential, Greenwood said.
Greenwood said the email would have been made available — with redactions to remove the names of job candidates — had anyone requested the document under the open records law.
Borland said a different university lawyer had refused to voluntarily share the email months ago, when both sides were exploring whether to enter mediation to try to settle. In 2013, the university told Borland's law firm that it would cost $900 to fulfill a broad open records request related to the job search that likely would have included the email. The firm backed off the request.
A university spokeswoman declined comment Thursday.