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Female professors file lawsuit against Rutgers for pay equity

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) held a press conference yesterday for 3 of the 5 professors involved to discuss this lawsuit and their experiences with pay inequity. – Photo by AAUP / Facebook

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) held a virtual press conference yesterday to announce that five female Rutgers professors are filing a lawsuit against the University to require pay equity among all Rutgers faculty.

Three professors involved in the lawsuit spoke at the conference to discuss their experiences and the reasoning behind this lawsuit.

Deepa Kumar, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies and immediate past president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, was the first to speak. She said she began working for Rutgers in 2004 as an assistant professor and was promoted to full professor in June.

Kumar said there were five professors hired to the School of Communication and Information during this time, with her being the only person of color. At this time, she said she began with a good salary compared to the others due to her previous experience of teaching at Wake Forest University.

After working at Rutgers for more than a decade, Kumar said she had become the lowest paid employee among this group despite her accomplishments matching and, at times, exceeding those of her colleagues.

Kumar said the school has a “revolving door” with faculty of color. While there were six tenured and tenure-track faculty of color at the School of Communication and Information, in 2012, five of those faculty members had left by 2020.

She said that out of the 42 tenured and tenure-track faculty at the School of Communication and Information, there are only two faculty of color and that she is the first person of color to be promoted to full professor in the school’s history.

Once she received tenure in 2010, Kumar said she went to the dean about a salary adjustment.

“I was told that the only way that this would be possible is if I got a job offer from another university, and then as part of a retention offer, my salary could potentially be increased,” she said.

Kumar said there is documentation that women are not capable of being as mobile as men in terms of relocating for job positions, whether it is due to having partners that are unable to move, family members that need to be cared for or other extenuating circumstances.

As a result, she said women are put at a disadvantage when they are told that the only option for receiving a salary adjustment is through relocating or getting a job offer somewhere else.

“Also, this is a game that many are unwilling to play. Unless we are serious about moving, we do not want to waste our time, as well as the time of colleagues at other schools, applying for jobs we don’t intend to take just to get an equity correction in our salaries,” Kumar said. “We believe that loyalty to an institution should be rewarded.”

Kumar said that after being offered a chance to apply for a full professor position at University of Cambridge and an endowed chair position at another institution, she was given a $6,000 salary increase as part of a retention offer from Rutgers. In comparison, she said a white male in her cohort was offered more than $22,000 for an assistant professor position over a decade ago.

“Don’t get me wrong, my colleagues are excellent scholars and teachers and dedicated to service, and they deserve every penny that they have earned. My point is, so do I,” she said. “In the last 12 years, I would estimate that I have lost more than $300,000 in earnings because I haven’t been paid what I should have been.”

Nancy Wolff, distinguished professor and director of the Edward J. Bloustein Center for Survey Research, spoke next. She said that while she has worked at the University for approximately 30 years, she has been paid significantly less than her male counterparts for similar work over the past 15 years.

Wolff said she had submitted an application to the Pay Equity Program 10 months ago, but has yet to receive a response. She said the program was negotiated by the AAUP-AFT last year and gave her hope that she would finally be paid at an equal level as her male colleagues.

“By continuing to pay me unequally, I am being asked to continue to subsidize the University’s active practice of unequal pay between female and male faculty,” she said.  “Conservatively estimated, I have already forgone (more than) half a million dollars in wages over the past 15 years.”

Wolff said this has been turned into a $500,000 subsidy used by the University to pay the higher salaries of Rutgers’ male faculty members. This practice is illegal, she said, according to the New Jersey Equal Pay Act.

The purpose of filing this lawsuit was to reveal this issue and require the Rutgers administration to uphold the values that its professors practice in their classrooms and through their research by paying female employees equally, she said.

“We as a University cannot stand for social justice when we do not practice social and economic justice within our own community,” Wolff said. “While Rutgers has been willing to acknowledge my contributions to research and service mission of the University through promotions and awards, it has been unwilling to pay me the salary that those same promotions and same awards have yielded my male faculty counterparts.”

She said she is hopeful that this lawsuit will result in the Rutgers administration adopting a zero tolerance policy, both written and spoken, for pay inequality throughout the entirety of the University.

The final speaker, Judith Storch, distinguished professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, said she did not initially open the email from the AAUP-AFT about the Pay Equity Program due to how focused she was on her work. She only opened the email once after another faculty member told her it might be worth looking into.

Storch said she was astounded at how much less she was being paid in comparison to the average of her male counterparts, specifically distinguished professors in the biomedical sciences.

“And then I looked further and saw that in virtually every category for every rank in every department, program or school, women were being paid less than men,” she said. “This struck me as clearly unjust.”

Storch said that she believes her male colleagues are supportive of salary equity for substantially similar work and would be just as unhappy with the structural pay inequities at the University as she is.

“My hope is that by speaking out along with my sister plaintiffs, I might help bring to light the problem of pay inequity at Rutgers. I sincerely hope that the University will do the right thing, not just by the five of us, but for everyone who is paid less for doing substantially equal work as their peers,” she said. “It is truly disturbing that marked pay inequalities still remain at the University even 50 plus years after (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and her female colleagues at Rutgers filed a lawsuit and won.”

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