Gender, Pay and a 'Black Box'

U of Arizona is sued over alleged discrimination against female faculty members in pay and promotions. This suit follows one by female deans.

December 4, 2018
 
Katrina Miranda

The Arizona Board of Regents is once again being sued for pervasive gender discrimination at the University of Arizona.

In a new federal lawsuit, Katrina Miranda, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona, alleges that women in the College of Science are consistently underpaid and passed over for promotions with respect to their male colleagues. She is seeking class action status to represent the women across the college.

Miranda, who has been at Arizona since 2002, says that she and other women in her department have not received raises since 2011, while men in the department have seen their pay increase. Miranda also says that she was denied a promotion to full professor in 2016 by her dean and provost, even though her faculty colleagues recommended her for advancement.

That’s also despite the fact that she’s been assessed to have exceeded or “far exceeded” expectations in each of her routine reviews, and despite her many accomplishments, such as being honored as fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 2013.

The lawsuit alleges that such decisions at the administrative level are “completely disconnected from standards or metrics and are thus completely opaque,” and that the college dean, in particular, “exercises pay-setting authority in a black box.”

Women, reads the lawsuit, "are routinely disfavored.”

Miranda further alleges retaliation, saying that after she complained internally about what she saw as discrimination, administrators sought to reduce the size of her lab space, remove a prerequisite from one of her courses and block her from teaching a class she had designed.

“Despite Miranda’s strong record of research, service to the university, and contributions to the scientific community, the university has undercompensated and underpromoted her for years,” Miranda’s attorney, Andrew Melzer, said in a statement. “The lawsuit seeks to correct these ongoing wrongs, both for Miranda and for other female professors like her.”

According to public salary data cited in her complaint, Miranda has been paid between $9,000 and $36,000 less than male professors in her department with similar or lesser experience from 2016 to 2018. Miranda says that other women in her department have been similarly slighted.

Miranda earned between $97,000 and $100,000 annually between 2105-16 and 2017-18. By contrast, Arizona paid a male professor of chemistry who was hired and tenured at the same time as Miranda $130,500 annually for the last two years. Another male professor of chemistry who was hired just one year earlier than Miranda received a base salary of about $136,000 for each of the last two years. 

Miranda says that she has a stronger publication record than both men and has done as much service work as they have, if not more. Her research impact H-index score is almost double theirs, she says. Miranda also served as an assistant chair, while neither man has held a department leadership role, according to the complaint. 

Less experienced male faculty members also are paid more than women, Miranda says. A male professor of chemistry hired and tenured two years behind her earned $130,500 in each of the last two years, for example. And in 2011, the university gave that professor a $48,000 raise, bringing his salary to $120,000 annually. At the time, Miranda made $91,500. 

Miranda and other female associate professors approached their department chair about their pay. She was allegedly told be “patient.” But patience has not paid off. In 2011, there were seven other associate professors in Miranda’s department, the lawsuit says. Two additional male associate professors have since received salary increases while none of the female associate professors have.

Retention bonuses have been similarly distributed along gender lines, according to the lawsuit, and women allegedly know to avoid asking for them or risk professional repercussions.

Half of the associate professors in Miranda’s department are female, according to her complaint, but they are just one in every eight full professors -- the rank Miranda was denied.

Frustrated, Miranda complained to Arizona’s Office of Institutional Equity late last year. But her complaints have gone largely unheard, she says -- except for the consequences she’s suffered for speaking out.

Miranda is seeking $20 million in damages at trial via her would-be class action case -- and a change in the way her college does business.

In January, Patricia MacCorquodale, dean emerita of Arizona’s Honors College and a professor of gender and women’s studies, sued the university for gender discrimination, saying she was underpaid as compared to male deans. Janice Cervelli, former dean of architecture at Arizona and current president of Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, joined the suit in March. Cervelli alleges in that ongoing case that the difference between her pay and the average male dean’s was $80,000 annually in her last two years at Arizona.

Similar to Miranda, MacCorquodale and Cervelli seek to represent their female colleagues at Arizona in their $2 million collective action -- in that case, female deans. They are seeking back pay for lost compensation, along with damages and relief, via a jury trial.

The regents have previously said they do not comment on pending litigation, and a spokesperson for Arizona said Monday that the university is not commenting on either case.

Professors and administrators sue their institutions on a relatively rare basis, as lawsuits are expensive to pursue and courts typically defer to institutional judgment on personnel matters. But the two cases, while separate, may bolster each other. And there have been some recent legal wins for professors who take on their administrations. Most significantly, the University of Denver in May settled with the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission for $2.7 million and agreed to change its law faculty compensation policies.

The EEOC took the unusual step of suing Denver in that case for violations of the Equal Pay Act -- which is also cited in the Arizona cases -- and federal nondiscrimination laws. That’s after seven female law professors complained that they were paid less than their male colleagues for the same work.

The original Denver complainant, Lucy Marsh, a longtime professor at Denver's Sturm College of Law, told the EEOC in 2013 that she was paid less than all of her full-time, male colleagues -- even those who were hired long after her. The EEOC found evidence of a pay gap in the college going back to at least the 1970s and engaged in talks with Denver about it. But the university did not take steps to remedy the situation, according to the lawsuit.

Six other women joined Marsh in the complaint. In 2013, it says, the university employed nine female full professors whose average annual salary was about $140,000, compared to about $159,700 for male full professors. No female full professor earned more than the average salary for male full professors.

Higher education’s pay gap is well documented, and reflects trends across the U.S. work force. Female administrators earn 80 cents on the dollar when compared to men, according to a 2017 report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. That’s up just three cents from 2001, when the difference was 77 cents on the dollar. According to that same report, women made up about half of all administrators, but just 30 percent of top executives.

Among faculty members, 93 percent of all institutions pay men more than women at the same rank, according to the American Association of University Professors’ annual salary data. AAUP’s accompanying 2018 report said that women continue to face barriers breaking into the highest -- and highest-paid -- rank of full professor. Challenges include inadequate institutional support, sexual harassment and institutional reliance on part-time positions (in which women are overrepresented), along with unconscious bias, lack of mentorship and problems achieving work-life balance.

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