Stephanie Barnett, Lucy Marsh Findings Versus Ongoing Gender Discrimination

Our post earlier today highlighting sexist comments made about reporter Chase Olivarius-McAllister by sheriff's office employees who didn't realize their conversation was being recorded demonstrates the continuing challenges women face in the workplace.

So, too, do cases involving Stephanie Barnett, a former Montrose County employee who claims she was fired due to her pregnancy, and Lucy Marsh, a University of Denver professor who discovered that she was being significantly underpaid in comparison with her male counterparts.

Both Barnett and Marsh have scored recent victories, with the former receiving an expanded monetary award previously ordered by a judge, and the latter prompting a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging DU with discriminatory salary practices going back decades.

In 2009, the County of Montrose celebrated Barnett's appointment as an interim community relations specialist in this press release. After noting that Barnett began "collaborating with the county" in 2007 as a sales tax project manager, the item quotes outgoing public-affairs director Ana Mostaccero as saying, "It was a very difficult decision to leave Montrose County. It is such a great community with wonderful, caring people. I feel better in leaving work knowing that things are in Stephanie’s very capable hands. She has done a wonderful job as Project Manager for our county.”

In the years that followed, as reported by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Barnett was named director of the county's internal services division. But things went south in February 2013, when she told her boss, former county manager Roy “Rick” Eckert, that she was pregnant and asked to work part-time during the process.

Instead, Barnett was fired — after which she miscarried and lost her baby.

Barnett responded by filing a lawsuit — it's on view below — and in July, the Sentinel notes, a jury awarded her $306,400, an amount that consisted primarily of back-pay damages. Now, the award has been boosted to $771,411 with the addition of so-called "front pay," and it could rise into the $1 million range if the court decides to grant court and litigation costs as well.

For her part, Marsh learned from a 2012 salary memo circulated by the dean of DU's law school — it's also included here — that women who were full professors at the school made an average of $16,000 less per year than men in similar positions. And in an EEOC complaint, which 9News notes was filed the following year, she expressed her belief that her $109,000 salary made her "the lowest-paid full professor at the law school despite the fact that she worked for DU for forty years." 

Now, the EEOC has issued what 9News describes as a "determination letter" that describes the wage gap as a "continuing pattern" at DU stretching back to at least 1973 — and if the university doesn't boost female profs' pay and make up for the amount they've been shortchanged over the years, the federal agency may file suit on their behalf.

DU denies any wrongdoing — and it claims Marsh's pay is lower than that of her male colleagues because of "sub-standard performance in scholarship, teaching and service," the station reports.

That's a tough argument to make given the impressive credentials noted in Marsh's DU bio. It reads:
Prof. Lucy Marsh was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award, Law Stars, in 2010. She has also won the Professor of the Year award. She has been given the Denver Bar Association’s Pro Bono Service Award, and has served on the Board of Governors for the Colorado Bar Association, the Board of Metropolitan Denver Legal Aid, and was appointed by the Governor to the Colorado Real Estate Commission. She is a member of POETS, a select group of lawyers specializing in real estate matters.

In 2013 she established the Tribal Wills Project, taking students to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute reservations to write wills for tribal members under a very complex federal statute. The Tribal Wills Project is the only such program in the region.

She is founder and director of the Wills Lab, a popular, innovative class in which students write real wills, medical powers of attorney, living wills, and burial instructions for elderly and low income people in the Denver area.
Our performances should all be this sub-standard.

Look below to see three documents: Barnett's lawsuit, the 2012 DU memo and "Missing the Forest for the Trees: Gender Pay Discrimination in Academia," an article in which author Melissa Hart describes Marsh's lawsuit and puts it into a larger context.

Stephanie Barnett Lawsuit

University of Denver 2012 Memo

Lucy Marsh: Gender Pay Discrimination in Academia

Editor's note: The original version of this post incorrectly referred to the City of Montrose rather than the County of Montrose in regard to Stephanie Barnett's lawsuit. The text has been corrected. We regret the error.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts