Prof reaches $450,000 settlement over alleged gender pay gap

A professor filed a lawsuit against the University of Orgeon over an alleged gender pay gap within the psychology department.

After four years, a settlement was reached and the university ordered to pay out over $450,000.

After more than four years of litigation, the University of Oregon and a psychology professor settled the latter's lawsuit, which claimed the school had paid her less than her male colleagues of equal rank and seniority.  

Jennifer Freyd, a professor emerita, is also the founder of the Center for Institutional Courage, a non-profit working to “create more accountable, effective, and equitable institutions.” 

In 2014, Freyd discovered that she was earning between $14,000 and $42,000 less per year than the four male colleagues most similar in rank and tenure after the UO Psychology Department shared salary information with her.

In response, Freyd attempted to resolve the situation internally. After several failed tries, she filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging that the university was in violation of the Equal Pay Act, which states that “every worker must get equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, race, age, or other protected characteristics.”

“Knowing that I have been paid significantly less than my male peers over the course of my career is demoralizing and humiliating. The loss of pay also has had a material impact on my freedom and opportunities now. As someone who has reached a certain level of professional achievement, I feel a sense of responsibility to speak the truth of my experience,” Freyd wrote in a 2018 declaration.

“The pay inequity I have experienced is very painful and I do not want the women I have mentored, my current and many former graduate students, my own daughter in graduate school, or the junior faculty we have hired in the Department of Psychology to go through what I’ve gone through,” she continued.

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In the lawsuit, Freyd claimed that the UO’s own research found that the Psychology Department "faced a significant equity problem" in regards to professor salaries. 

In an open letter to the UO Board of Trustees, Freyd pointed out that the psychology department conducted a self-study in 2016 which concluded that male professors, on average, earned approximately $25,000 more a year than their female colleagues.

The suit stated that UO psychology department head Ulrich Mayr suggested that the college’s deans review Freyd’s pay because he believed it was the university’s “most glaring inequity case."

However, in 2019, a federal judge dismissed Freyd’s case, siding with the university. The ruling declared that Freyd and her male counterparts are sufficiently compensated for the responsibilities they perform.

 Freyd appealed the decision to the 9th US Circuit of Appeals, which found that Freyd’s male colleagues earned higher pay despite performing identical job responsibilities. 

“We think that a reasonable jury could find that Freyd’s statistical analysis shows a prima facie case of disparate impact,” 9th Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee in the majority opinion.

“I am pleased that the court recognized that the Equal Pay Act applies in professional settings and that courts cannot break down jobs into tiny pieces. They recognized our claim that practices like retention raises can result in discrimination against the law,” Freyd said in a March 15 statement. 

“This is not just a victory for me. It sends a strong message of support to so many women who continue to struggle against pay discrimination,” she continued. 

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After over four years of litigation, a joint settlement was reached between the two entities on July 16. The University of Oregon agreed to pay Freyd $350,000 to cover her “claims for damages” and legal fees. Additionally, UO will make a $100,000 donation to Freyd’s organization, Center for Institutional Courage. 

“We are pleased to put this litigation behind us and together affirm our continued commitment to uncover, acknowledge, and address gender inequity and other forms of discrimination,” Freyd said in a statement following the decision. 

UO and Freyd did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for publication.