The 2016 gender-based pay disparity litigation by four College of Business female faculty members continues this year, resulting in a court date set in order to resolve the plaintiffs’ claims. They claim they are paid less than their male colleagues for the same work.
Last week, depositions for the case were held in Marquette. Discovery, the period of months in which parties exchange information, is now closed, and expert discovery during which the parties exchange reports from experts, has begun. It will end on Feb. 21. A date has been set for the case to be heard in a federal court in Kalamazoo during October of this year.
Before progressing to federal court, plaintiffs in a gender discrimination suit must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the vast majority of instances, the EEOC is unable to substantiate the discrimination claims brought to them, and the process ends, the plaintiffs’ attorney Brian Farrar said.
“In this case, the EEOC interviewed the four professors, they did an investigation, and determined there is reasonable cause to believe that NMU violated federal law regarding gender equality as it pertained to these women,” Farrar said.
As NMU is a public employer, the EEOC referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice, which refused to prosecute the case. They did not dispute the EEOC findings on the case, Farrar said.
“The Department of Justice dismissed this case,” according to a statement released by Provost Kerri Schuiling. “In addition, the president of the AAUP faculty union conducted a review of faculty pay structures on campus and found no systemic effect of gender on salary among full-time AAUP faculty. While we take these charges very seriously, we are disappointed in any unsubstantiated allegations that suggest otherwise. Northern Michigan University is committed to equity and inclusiveness, two integral components at the core of who we are as a community. NMU will continue to defend its commitment to fairness, but we prefer to do so in a court of law rather than in public forums.”
It is university policy to not comment on ongoing litigation, so no further comments could be obtained.
Data Analyst for the AAUP and Associate Professor of Chemistry, Brandon Canfield, released a statement expressing the difficulties he found in confirming or denying gender discrimination in this case.
“One of the biggest challenges when attempting to assess systematic bias involving gender and salary is simply identifying an objective measure for it,” Canfield said in the statement. “My ongoing efforts to do so have yet to produce any conclusive results one way or the other, however that should in no way be interpreted to mean that discrimination has not occurred on our campus. Individuals who feel they have been victims of such discrimination deserve a fair and objective review of their experiences, something which may not be possible outside a court of law.”
The AAUP released a statement in response to an article in the Mining Journal, disputing the statement released by the university.
“The NMU-AAUP would like to point out that this analysis of salary data never made such sweeping claims. The data simply showed that when considering salaries of all full-time faculty at NMU, gender was not found to be a statistically significant variable affecting salary…The president’s report did not state unequivocally that there is no gender bias, only that there is no pattern of gender bias across all full-time faculty,” according to the AAUP statement.
When the plaintiffs originally brought this issue to Provost Schuiling, a committee named the Provost Neutral Committee was created to investigate their claims. The provost did not accept all the suggestions of this committee, Farrar said.
“The provost essentially rejected her own committee’s findings, which we thought was surprising,” Farrar said.
The four professors—Karin Stulz, Margo Vroman, Carol Steinhaus and Claudia Hart—claim the discrimination continues even now, according to Farrar.
“We hope that my clients will get the compensation that they deserve and that they are paid on par with the male faculty.” Farrar said. “It includes back pay, front pay, also emotional damages that they have suffered as a result of the discrimination.”
Farrar said it’s difficult for plaintiffs because in American society were judged on how much money we make, whether it’s just or not.
“When someone is paid less than a male colleague, it sends the message to students that they’re not valued as much, or that they’re not as good of professors, and that’s the wrong message,” Farrar said. “It deeply affects these professors because they continue to go to work each day and to do their job and do what they love, which is teaching, helping students. But it’s becoming extremely difficult for them.”
The next step for the pay disparity suit will be the conclusion of the expert discovery period, followed by the meeting of the two parties in court.