Five professors sue Rutgers, claiming pay equity agenda has stalled


In the wake of a major gender pay gap settlement at nearby Princeton University, five Rutgers University professors have filed a pay equity complaint against their institution.

The complainants, including two women of color, say their pay differentials were only revealed because of a wage adjustment clause negotiated in their most recent union contract, in 2019.

The university has refused to move forward to fill these gaps despite newly defined processes to do so, the women say, making legal action necessary.

Rutgers said in a statement that during COVID-19, “our immediate focus is and will continue to be the health and safety of every member of our community. Nonetheless, we are committed to resolving outstanding complaints as quickly and responsibly as possible. “

Nancy Wolff, a distinguished professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at the Rutgers Campus in New Brunswick, for example, says her salary is 23 to 38 percent lower than her distinguished professor counterparts at the school with similar responsibilities, and much the same as many of Bloustein’s male teachers who are not distinguished teachers.

This has been the case for at least the past 15 years, based on available data, she says, and previous attempts to ask Rutgers to close the gap have had only modest success.

In one case, Rutgers pays an additional $ 40,352 per year to a professor who does “substantially similar work” at Wolff, according to the lawsuit. Another male peer with similar functions is paid an additional $ 65,405.

Wolff, former director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers, received $ 14 million in grants while there, and she currently heads the Bloustein Center for Survey Research, which is the most funded center in the Bloustein School. , according to the lawsuit. She has also published two books and over 100 peer-reviewed articles and edited several important publications.

As part of the new fairness program, Wolff submitted a formal request for a pay rise in September 2019, ahead of COVID-19. The request was approved by his dean, but Rutgers did not grant the salary adjustment, according to the lawsuit.

“Because I am a senior, tenured, accomplished, and principled member of the faculty, I have a duty to stand up and speak up when I see wrongdoing,” Wolff said at a conference last week. virtual press release on the trial. “I went to this trial because there is wrongdoing here. “

Wolff’s co-complainant, Judith Storch, a prominent New Brunswick professor of nutritional science, described herself at the conference as “stunned” by the unfairness revealed by the pay equity plan. Rutgers pays him $ 40,669 less each year than a male professor in the same situation, for example, and $ 34,390 less than another, according to the lawsuit.

“Astonished, amazed” might be better descriptors for Storch’s reaction to “how much less I was paid than the average of my predominantly male counterparts, namely distinguished professors in biomedical sciences,” she continued. “And then I looked further and saw that in pretty much every category, for every rank in every department or program, women were paid less than men.”

Under the Rutgers Faculty Union contract, the university may, “at its discretion, increase the salary of one or more members” in response to unusual professional achievements, outside job offers, market conditions. in a particular area and – most relevant to the prosecution – fairness.

Equity adjustments can be based on external market salary benchmarks and the faculty’s individual benchmark information, including teaching, service, and research accomplishments, “relative to peers. relevant and with the recognition that Rutgers prohibits discrimination based on classifications protected by law, including, but not limited to sex and race.

Relevant peers include those from all Rutgers campuses. Under the new policy, professors who wish to adjust their salary make a formal request, along with documentation, to their dean and compensation services staff.

Campus chancellors decide on the degree of adjustment to be made, if any.

The Rutgers lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court, says the teachers’ union “has vigorously sought to enforce” the newly negotiated procedure. But the university “failed to process pay equity adjustment requests in accordance” with the contract.

The Rutgers Faculty Union is affiliated with the American Association of University Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

The lawsuit notes that in addition to the contract, Rutgers is governed by New Jersey’s Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act of 2018. The NJEPA, as it is known, prohibits an employer from paying “any of its employees who is a member of a protected category at a rate of pay, including benefits, that is lower than the rate paid by the” employer to employees who are not members of the protected class for substantially similar work, when considered to be a mixture of skill, effort and responsibility. “

Co-complainant Deepa Kumar, professor of journalism and media studies, told the new conference that “real equity is only possible if the institution as a whole is committed to it”. Each faculty member “deserves to be appreciated for the total sum of their contributions – research, teaching and service – and to be paid also for substantially equal work,” she continued. “Anything less than that will do.”

The last two plaintiffs are Haydee Herrera-Guzman, associate professor of mathematics at the Rutgers campus in Camden, and Lisa Zeidner, professor of English and communication in Camden.

The university said in a statement that it “would not be appropriate to discuss the details of the dispute or disclose details regarding personnel matters.”

Fairness, however, is a “top priority” for new Rutgers chairman Jonathan Holloway, who took on the role in July, he said. “We are committed to ensuring pay equity and await recommendations for many outstanding claims in the coming weeks. “

Rutgers also said that creating a “new and complex faculty pay equity program that takes into account the variety of disciplines, individual schools and academic credentials is a challenge, even at the best of times. cases ”. These difficulties have been “magnified after having to divert our human resources to respond to the immediate issues presented by the COVID crisis, including the preservation of jobs and post-closure benefits and employee telecommuting, as well as a variety of employee issues. health and safety for everyone who works at Rutgers.

The Rutgers Faculty Union says Rutgers hired the law firm Jackson Lewis to advise him on the new equity agenda, and the university’s strategy appears to be to “keep delaying action until that the workers are exhausted “.

In the recent Princeton case, the university said it would pay nearly $ 1 million to 106 full professors, past and present, following a federal pay equity investigation in that country. At least an additional $ 250,000 will be set aside for efforts to close the additional gender pay gap.

Princeton did not admit any wrongdoing in a conciliation agreement, saying it sought to avoid “long and costly litigation.” He said he and the government share an interest in fairness.

Rutgers Faculty Union says efforts to achieve pay equity for faculty in 2020 are reminiscent of those of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who taught law at Rutgers from 1963 in 1972. Ginsburg said her dean at Rutgers told her at the time of her hire that you might expect her to be paid less than a man with equivalent experience because “you have a husband who has a well-paid job ”.

In response, Ginsburg and some of his female colleagues launched a lawsuit for equal pay.

“And after a few years, the lawsuit was settled in 1969,” Ginsburg recalled at a conference last year. “The smallest raise a woman got was $ 6,000, which was much more then than it is today.”

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