- The University of Miami paid a female political science professor less than a male professor in her department, but that wasn’t because of her sex, a federal jury found March 11 (EEOC v. University of Miami, No. 19-23131 (S.D. Fla. March 11, 2022)).
- The female professor said she learned from an inadvertent email in 2018 that for the 2017-2018 academic year, the university paid the male professor $137,366, nearly $25,000 more than what it paid her ($112,400). Both professors had doctorate degrees in political science and both taught the same level of courses in the same department, court documents said. They were promoted to full professor at the same time, and both were on tenure tracks and bound by the same requirements and expectations.
- In pretrial motions, the university argued that it had nondiscriminatory reasons for the difference in pay: He taught different classes, specialized in a different area, published in more prestigious journals and drew attention to the university’s program. The university also said market considerations supported their different starting salaries: $50,000 for her in 2000; $81,000 for him in 2007. A jury found that the female professor was not paid a lower wage for doing equal work and that sex was not a motivating factor in the university’s decision to pay her less.
The case illustrates that pay decisions, even those based on multiple, nondiscriminatory factors, carry some risk.
The university explained in court documents, for example, that it considers numerous factors when making faculty pay decisions. With a potential new hire, administrators look at the salaries of comparable professors within the department and other institutions, as well as the candidate’s credentials, past teaching experience, research record and publications, it explained in court documents. To determine raises, it considers a professor’s teaching, service, research, publications, performance and the department’s salary structure. It also considers counteroffers or potential poaching by another institution.
But employees paid less than a co-worker perceived to be similarly situated may believe they’ve been wronged and want recourse. Pay equity audits can help minimize that risk by identifying and addressing pay discrepancies unrelated to job factors. They also can bolster worker trust, a 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found.
However, before committing to an audit, employers should consider using legal privilege, which protects against disclosure during legal proceedings; develop accurate comparisons; and conduct a statistical regression analysis, a management-side attorney said in a recent webinar, adding that it’s also important for employers to follow through on the results.