IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Qualified male candidates were repeatedly passed over for an assistant job in the University of Iowa track program after the athletic department quietly mandated that a woman be hired, a discrimination complaint alleges.
Track and field director Larry Wieczorek joked during the hiring process that then-assistant Mike Scott should consider having a sex change operation to improve his prospects, according to a complaint filed by Scott with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
In their quest to hire a woman, administrators rejected a committee's recommendation to offer the job to a highly qualified male candidate and twice rewrote the position description to try to attract female candidates, Scott alleges. After three postings spanning more than one year, the university hired Molly Jones for the position in September.
In an interview Friday, Scott said that he was pursuing the case to ensure that hiring decisions for highly competitive jobs in college athletics are based on merit, not gender. He said doing otherwise is a disservice to male and female coaches and the athletes with whom they work.
"It needs to be a situation where they are hired or fired based on what they have done professionally and not based on attributes that are not in their control," said Scott, 37, now an assistant at Missouri State University.
If a resolution cannot be reached to Scott's complaint, his attorney, Brooke Timmer, said that she was prepared to file a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation.
University spokesman Tom Moore declined to respond to Scott's allegations, saying the school's written response to the complaint is a confidential document and it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The unusual and now disputed hiring process came during an attempt to replace assistant track coach Christi Smith, who left Iowa's program in 2012. She had been the only female coach among six paid staff members, who oversee dozens of male and female athletes in events ranging from cross country to vertical jump.
A former University of Missouri sprinter who had coached at high school and collegiate levels, Scott had joined Iowa in 2011 as an unpaid volunteer assistant, giving up a paid job at Graceland University so he could work at the Division I level.
With Smith's contract expiring in 2012, Scott believed he was qualified to replace her since he was already assisting in her areas, including pole vault and vertical jump. But early on, Wieczorek cautioned him that administrators were interested in a woman and joked that Scott should "consider an operation" -- referring to a sex change -- to make himself "more competitive," the complaint says.
Wieczorek didn't return a message seeking comment.
Scott said he was among five finalists who were interviewed, and that the hiring committee recommended another male candidate who had more coaching experience than him. The athletic department declined to hire anyone.
Instead, Scott accepted an offer to fill the position on an interim basis for the 2012-2013 season. During that time, he said he learned the department planned to advertise for the permanent job anew -- but this time seek a coach with expertise in distance running. He and other assistants believed that made no sense since two of the five coaches already focused in that area.
To justify the revision, head coach Layne Anderson sent an email to assistants informing them "that the administration had mandated that the ... program select a female candidate," Scott's complaint alleges. The university informed Scott's attorney that it would cost $900 to fulfill an open records request seeking that email and other documents.
Scott did not apply for the job since he didn't have experience in distance. That search led to three finalists: two women and a man. Both female candidates declined the job, and it wasn't offered to the man, Scott says.
The university rewrote the job description and advertised again, this time so that it was more general in nature. Scott said the change made him qualified and he applied -- but did not get an interview.
In announcing the hiring of Jones, who had worked two years as a volunteer assistant at Florida State, Wieczorek praised her "wealth of experience," smarts and hunger.