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Appeals Court Allows Oregon Pay Discrimination Suit to Proceed

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of Jennifer Freyd in an appeal that the AAUP supported with an amicus brief submitted in September 2019. The appeals court found that she had alleged sufficient facts to proceed with a suit, which a lower court had dismissed, against the University of Oregon for pay discrimination based on significant pay disparities with male faculty members. 

The case arose because Freyd is paid substantially less than her male colleagues in the psychology department who hold the same positions as full professors, have less seniority, and are no more accomplished. Internal and external reviews of the department traced the disparity back to retention raises given to professors who pursued outside offers of employment and the university's failure to adjust Freyd's salary in spite of a policy that provides for gender equity adjustments.

Freyd brought an action in the US District Court for the District of Oregon, claiming that UO discriminated against her in violation of the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX, the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution, the Equal Rights Amendment of the Oregon Constitution, and related state laws. The district court held that Freyd and her male colleagues did not perform equal work or comparable work, that the retention raises did not create a disparate impact on female professors, and that any disparate impact was justified. Freyd filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, and the AAUP filed an amicus brief in support of her appeal. The brief provides an overview of gender-based wage discrimination in academia, explains that the common core of faculty job duties of teaching, research, and service are comparable, and explains that the pay differentials were not justified. It also argued that the department's retention raise practice had a discriminatory impact that could have been corrected by the university.

The appeals court decision did not mention the AAUP brief but did follow its reasoning. In reversing the lower court's dismissal of Freyd’s Equal Pay Act claim and her claims for discrimination under Title VII and Oregon Law, the court found that the jobs of the female and male faculty were “comparable” for legal purposes. The court also found that the university could have avoided the discriminatory impact of the retention raises by revisiting the pay of comparable faculty when the retention raises were given.

See a longer summary of the ruling with links to the court's opinion and the AAUP amicus brief.

Publication Date: 
Monday, March 22, 2021