Labor & Employment Law Daily University of Miami must defend paying female professor $25K less than male peer
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Monday, December 9, 2019

University of Miami must defend paying female professor $25K less than male peer

By Marjorie Johnson, J.D.

An email sent to her inadvertently revealed that a male professor who received the same promotion was paid $137,366 while her salary was $112,400.

The University of Miami failed to convince a federal district court in Florida to toss Title VII and Equal Pay Act lawsuits filed by the EEOC and a female professor alleging that it unlawfully paid the female professor close to $25,00 less annually than her male counterpart. The two professors plausibly held jobs that required “equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” They both allegedly received above-average ratings and were promoted to full professor in the same academic department at the same time after a review by the same committee based on the same criteria. Therefore, the university’s motion to dismiss was denied (EEOC v. University of Miami, December 3, 2019, Scola, R.).

Male had higher starting salary. The university hired the female professor in August 2000 as a first-year assistant professor in its political science department with an annual salary of $50,000. In the spring or summer of 2007, she was awarded tenure and promoted to the position of associate professor, and her pay increased to $72,500. Around the same time, the university hired the male comparator as an assistant professor in the political science department and paid him a salary of $81,000.

Though fewer publications. When hired, the male professor had four years of experience teaching at the University of Montana. However, the female professor allegedly published more scholarly work than him. Specifically, she claimed that she published more articles and had published a book by 2007, while he did not publish one until 2010.

Pay disparity discovered. In December 2016, both professors were evaluated for a promotion to full professor based on the same qualification standards and the committee recommended them both for promotion by a unanimous vote. They also both received above average ratings for their teaching. Several months later, she learned that while she was being paid $112,400 for the 2017-2018 academic year, he earned $137,366.

The discovery that she made almost $25,000 less than him prompted her to file an EEOC charge and the EEOC subsequently filed this lawsuit on her behalf. She then filed a nearly identical intervenor complaint. In its motion to dismiss, the university argued that the EEOC and female professor failed to plausibly allege that the male comparator performed equal work.

Equal work. In demonstrating equal work, “the controlling factor under the Equal Pay Act is content—the actual duties the respective employees are called upon to perform.” The statute does not require that the comparator’s job be “identical.” Rather there must be “substantially equal job content.” This means that they must have a “common core of tasks.” Thus, while employees do not have to prove jobs are identical, they have “the heavy burden of proving substantial identity of job functions.”

The EEOC and claimant made numerous allegations relating to the professors’ respective job duties, such as teaching classes and publishing books and articles. In particular, the female professor purportedly had two more years of teaching experience than her male counterpart and published more works than him. Also, one of the university’s deans described her book as “of high significance and visibility.”

Same promotion in same department. With respect to their teaching capabilities, both professors had received above average ratings. Both were in the political science department and promoted to full professor at the same time after a review by the same committee based on the same criteria. Thus, it could be plausibly inferred that the two professors held jobs that required “equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” Therefore, the EEOC and female professor stated a claim under the Equal Pay Act and, since the plaintiffs successfully stated a claim under the EPA, they also alleged sufficient facts under Title VII’s more relaxed “similarly situated” standard.

Fourth Circuit case distinguished. The university relied heavily on the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Spencer v. Virginia State University, which found that a female professor did not engage in equal work to two male peers. However, that case was decided at the summary judgment stage. Moreover, its facts were distinguishable since unlike the present case, the professors there taught in different departments and “the differences between academic departments generally involve differences in skill and responsibility.” Also, the female professor taught undergraduate courses while the male professors taught graduate courses, supervised dissertations, and worked more hours each week.

The court’s reasoning in Spencer did not apply here since both professors taught in the same department at the undergraduate level. Moreover, any other potential differences between their work could be developed by the university during discovery and presented at the summary judgment stage. But for now, the EEOC and female professor met their burden to state a claim under the EPA and Title VII.

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