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Court: Professor's Equal Pay Case May Proceed

March 16, 2021
 
 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided Monday with Jennifer Freyd, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, in her gender-based pay discrimination lawsuit against her administration. The decision doesn’t mean Freyd won her long-standing case against the university. It does mean that she may continue to pursue her case and take it to trial.

Previously, a federal judge ruled against Freyd, finding that her job was sufficiently different from that of her male psychology department colleagues to explain the significant pay gap between them. The appeals court’s panel of judges just reversed major parts of that summary judgment, finding that a reasonable jury could find that Freyd performed “a common core of tasks” and did “substantially equal work” as the better-paid men in her department.

Dissenting partially from his two fellow appeals panel colleagues, Judge Lawrence J. VanDyke said he agreed with the district court’s earlier determination that pay disparities based on retention raises do not violate federal or state laws against sex discrimination. A major part of Freyd’s case, meanwhile, is that market-based retention raises have been shown to disproportionately benefit men over women.

Freyd, who is retiring from the university this week, said in a statement, "I am pleased to report that the court recognized that the [federal] Equal Pay Act applies in professional settings and that courts cannot break down jobs into tiny pieces. They recognized our claim that practices like retention raises can result in discrimination that is against the law."

This is "not just a victory for me," Freyd said. "It sends a strong message of support to so many women who continue to struggle against pay discrimination. I hope that the University of Oregon will now move forward in the spirit of equity and justice."

The university said in a statement that the appellate court "unanimously found that no evidence supports allegations that the University of Oregon or any of its personnel engaged in any act of intentional discrimination." The court dismissed some of Freyd's claims and said factual issues relating to the remaining claims should be decided by a jury, the university said. It added that as issues posed by this case "place the ability of universities to retain faculty in question, the University of Oregon will evaluate carefully over the coming days whether to appeal or proceed to trial."

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