Feds: DU Underpaid Every Female Full Law Professor Compared to Men

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission is suing the University of Denver for allegedly paying not just one or some of its female full law professors less than the mean average salary of male full profs at the law school, but all of them. And two major factors bolster the federal agency's case.

Factor one: math.

Factor two: Some of the damning numbers were crunched by DU.

To date, most of the publicity generated by the case has focused on DU law professor Lucy Marsh, who filed the original charge with the commission alleging that the university violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But Marsh wasn't the only female law-school prof to allegedly suffer from discrimination.

Indeed, the complaint mentions seven other DU female full law professors by name in addition to Marsh: K.K. DuVivier, Nancy Ehrenreich, Sheila Hyatt, Kris McDaniel-Miccio, Joyce Sterling, Catherine Smith and Celia Taylor. And the suit also seeks compensation for "other female Full Law Professors who were or are adversely affected by Defendant University of Denver’s unlawful compensation practices."

"What's been reported so far makes it seem as if this is only about one professor," says Mary Jo O'Neill, the Phoenix-based regional attorney for the EEOC who's overseeing the suit. "But it's really about all the female full professors. We view this as a systemic problem — and we think DU isn't the only law school where there's this pay differential between male and female professors. And equal-pay issues don't only affect the person when it first happens, but during their whole careers."

Marsh's case is used in the lawsuit to exemplify O'Neill's last point. The document notes that when she was hired as an assistant law professor in the fall of 1976, she was paid an annual salary of $16,800, while a man brought aboard to fill a similar position at the same time received $19,000 — and this discrepancy didn't vanish as the years went on. In fall 1982, when Marsh was promoted to full law professor, her salary was $37,320, while the man, who also earned a promotion then, received $40,500. And by October 2013, this gap had widened considerably. Marsh was being paid $111,977 — a healthy sum, but more than $75,000 less than the male professor in question, the suit maintains.

Comparing the salaries of all the female professors at DU with the amount paid to their male counterparts shows there was nothing unique about Marsh's situation. In October 2013, DU's law school employed 25 full professors: sixteen men, nine women. The mean annual salary of the males was $159,721, compared to $139,940 for the women — and as the complaint states, "no female Full Professor earned an annual salary greater than the mean annual salary for male Full Law Professors."

This scenario doesn't surprise O'Neill. "Let's say raises are based on percentages," she notes. "Because the women started at a lower amount, the differences will increase over time — and there's been this difference for forty years. Think about the impact that can make. It can impact retirement and it can impact their whole families, because this is women taking home less money to their families than their male counterparts."

At this writing, DU hasn't filed its answer to the EEOC complaint (it's due by December 12), and O'Neill concedes that "we'll be interested to see what their defenses are, since they did their own internal study and saw that there was this disparity."

Her reference is to what's described in the complaint as a December 2012 memorandum in which DU law-school dean Martin Katz wrote that "the median salary for female Full Professors was $7,532 less than that for males before this round of raises and $11,282/year less than that of males after this round of raises." He added: “The mean salary for female Full Professors was $14,870/year less than that for males before this round of raises and $15,859/year less than that for males after this round of raises.”

In O'Neill's view, "It's great for them to self-audit and see there's an issue. But the next step is to fix it. We've had a lot of cases against universities, and when a problem is uncovered, they usually try to fix it, because they want to keep the morale up in the workforce. So what's disappointing to us is that they knew about this but didn't fix it."

As such, she offers credit to the assorted female professors for refusing to accept the status quo. "These women were no longer willing to remain silent. There's a lot of pay inequity in a lot of workplaces, and oftentimes people don't know about the disparity or they're not willing to come forward because they fear losing their job or suffering some retaliation. But these women have chosen not to be silent."

A scheduling conference has been scheduled in the case for December 13, though O'Neill says it could be pushed back. When it does take place, she notes that the judge will "set out a discovery schedule and how many depositions must be taken. We'll ask for updated wage information, and there will probably be expert witnesses. And after the depositions are taken and discovery is ended, the judge will set a trial date" — a process she thinks may take eighteen months to two years to complete.

There's also the possibility for a settlement. "We tried that before we filed the lawsuit," she reveals, "and we're always interested in resolving these matters, so everyone can go on with their regular work. In terms of the odds, 90 to 95 percent settle before they go to trial."

These are significant numbers — and they're not the only ones. Here's the EEOC complaint.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. University of Denver