A Florida federal court refused to dismiss an Equal Pay Act claim.
The EEOC filed the claim on behalf of a female professor.
In 2018, the woman “inadvertently received an email circulated by [the department chair], disclosing the annual salaries of several faculty members.”
The email revealed that the woman made $28,000 less than a male colleague.
The woman had already complained to university officials about unfair pay for women back in 2010.
This time, she filed a complaint with the EEOC.
The EEOC conducted an investigation. It found “reasonable cause to believe” the university violated federal law by paying the female professor “less than her male comparator for equal work.” The parties couldn’t reach a settlement. The EEOC sued on the woman’s behalf, alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act.
The university filed a motion for summary judgment.
Does Pay Gap Amount to Gender Bias?
To win, the EEOC had to show the university “paid differing wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work” in positions that required similar skill, effort and responsibilities.
Here, the university said the two professors weren’t valid “comparators” – i.e., employees who performed similar work in similar positions. It said they “didn’t specialize in the same teaching/research areas.”
The court disagreed. It found the record showed that both employees were full rank, tenure-track professors who worked in the same department.
Also, both professors obtained doctorate degrees and taught “the same number of courses at the introductory and upper-level classes.”
In addition, they were both subject to the same requirements regarding teaching, research and scholarly publishing.
The EEOC showed the two employees held similar positions. So the burden shifted to the school to show that the pay discrepancy was based on any factor other than sex.
The university said the difference in pay was a result of the difference in “market value” at the time the professors were hired.
But when pressed on its “market value” decisions, the university could not explain why the man “was offered $81,000” when he was hired while the female employee was “only offered $72,000 for a higher-ranking position.”
Nor did it explain why the wage gap continued to grow over the years.
Evidence Didn’t Show Unequal Performance
The court rejected the school’s reasoning that the pay differential was “due to disproportionate performance in the areas of teaching.”
The employees’ performance evaluations didn’t support the university’s claim that the man’s job performance was superior to the female professor’s. Both received excellent reviews.
In addition, the court noted that the university had recently completed two internal studies to assess gender pay discrepancies. The first found a pay gap of $32,889.60. The second, conducted two years later, showed that men still out-earned women by $21,687.20.
Moreover, the record showed that the dean knew about the professor’s 2010 complaint and had said she was “grossly underpaid” and earning “less than many junior faculty members,” the court said. Despite this knowledge, the issue was not resolved.
The court said that many questions existed about the reason behind the difference in pay. As such, the claim had to proceed, it held.
EEOC v. Univ. of Miami, No. 19-23131-Civ-Scola, 2021 WL 4459683 (S.D. Fla. 9/29/21).