Press Conference: Thursday, October 15, 1 p.m.
Administration Delaying Equity Program, Say Plaintiffs; “We Want Fairness and Equal Pay for Equal Work”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Half a century after the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won a settlement in a pay equity lawsuit filed with her female colleagues against Rutgers University-Newark, faculty at the university are waging the same struggle.
Five female professors at Rutgers filed suit today to require pay equity in separate claims that came to light through a groundbreaking program to address faculty salary inequality that was part of the contract negotiated last year by Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers.
At least 130 faculty members have applied to the program since it first took effect in July 2019, according to the union. Rutgers has refused to divulge the total number of applicants. To date, the administration has not completed processing a single case.
- Read the complaint filed today
- Read media statements from the plaintiffs
- Press conference livestreamed at the Rutgers AAUP-AFT Facebook page
“I expected my application to be reviewed through the lens of a public university that upholds values of excellence, integrity, and fairness,” said Nancy Wolff, distinguished professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and one of the five plaintiffs. “Instead, that lens looks and feels more like a corporate response to placate, delay, and limit liability.
“I want equal pay for equal work—to be compensated in accordance with the value that I’ve brought to this university, on the same terms as my male counterparts. I think that’s consistent with what the union negotiated and with the pay equity law passed in New Jersey in 2018.”
The contractual equity program addresses faculty claims of pay discrimination based on race, gender, and other categories, as well as inequities across Rutgers’ three campuses–Newark, Camden and New Brunswick. According to union leaders, many deans reviewed the applications that began coming in last year and greenlighted pay equity corrections, but the process stalled in the central administration.
Top administrators appear to have only recently taken the first tentative steps in a handful of cases, said Rebecca Givan, vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. “But from what we’ve been told, both the process for assessing claims and the formula they’re considering for resolving them seem arbitrary and inadequate. As we understand it, administrators are considering salary adjustments within a percentage range that falls well short of the documented pay gap. This would entirely defeat the purpose of the process and allow inequities to continue indefinitely.”
“It sounds like they’re proposing a fraction of what’s fair,” said another plaintiff, Deepa Kumar, professor of Journalism and Media Studies. “If you’re dealing with the problem of bringing someone up to equal pay for equal work, it makes no sense to use a formula that by definition gets them only part of the way there.”
The lawsuit specifically asks a judge to require fully equal pay for substantially similar work in the individual cases of the five plaintiffs—all women and two women of color. They are senior faculty, each with their own stories of inequality and discrimination.
Wolff estimates that, over just the past 15 years at Rutgers—half the time she has taught at the university—she has been underpaid by half a million dollars compared to equivalent male counterparts. “And now,” she said, “they’re talking about making up a portion of that and asking us to be grateful for the level of inequality that they’ve decided is acceptable. Well, I’m tired of being grateful. I want fairness.” Kumar similarly estimates that she has lost over $300,000 in earnings during the last 12 years.
The university has hired a notoriously anti-union law firm, Jackson Lewis, to advise it on the pay equity program, according to financial documents obtained by Rutgers AAUP-AFT through the Open Public Records Act. The strategy of endlessly delaying action until workers become exhausted is a classic Jackson Lewis technique.
The plaintiffs say they have chosen to participate in the lawsuit because they are senior, tenured, and accomplished. For every such faculty member, there are scores of others who are vulnerable and could face retaliation. Another plaintiff, Judith Storch, distinguished professor of nutritional sciences, now in her 28th year teaching at Rutgers, said she and her colleagues are committed to winning justice not only for themselves but all the other faculty who have made inequity claims so far and the others to come in the future.
“I never realized I was so underpaid until I saw all the data the union compiled on pay inequity,” Storch said. “So now I do want a settlement because I’m so upset. But that’s not my endpoint. My endpoint is justice.”
Efforts to achieve faculty pay equity go back much further. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who taught at Rutgers Law School from 1963 to 1972, was told outright by the dean when she was hired that she would be paid less than a male professor with equivalent experience because he had “a wife and two children to support,” Ginsburg later remembered, while “you have a husband who has a good-paying job.”
“But the women at Rutgers Newark…began an equal pay suit,” Ginsburg told an audience at Berkeley Law School last December. “And after some years, the suit was settled in 1969. The lowest increase that any woman got was $6,000, which in those days was a lot more than it is today.” In those same years she was fighting for equity for herself, Ginsburg became a pioneer in advocating for women’s legal equality, first as a lawyer and later as a judge.
Pay equity is a top priority for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who in 2018 signed one of the most sweeping equal pay laws in the United States. “From our first day in Trenton, we acted swiftly to support equal pay for women in the workplace and begin closing the gender wage gap,” Governor Murphy said in a statement.
Around the same time, Rutgers AAUP-AFT was locked in a conflict with management over a new contract. The union organized a survey of members to find out what they most wanted to see in the next agreement with the administration. Some 2,000 ranked a provision to achieve faculty pay equity as a top priority, said Kumar, a former president of the union. She said Governor Murphy sent the union a statement in support of its gender and race equity platform.
Givan said that Rutgers AAUP-AFT “has consistently prioritized taking care of all of us. We’ve proposed that faculty furlough and/or defer their raises in order to protect the most vulnerable workers from layoffs and cuts, and we will continue to say that during this case. Part of a people-centered approach is making sure that women and people of color and colleagues in Camden and Newark are paid as much as their male counterparts, their white counterparts, and their New Brunswick counterparts.”
Kumar stressed the wider implications of this struggle for equality at Rutgers. “I believe we’re the only higher ed union to have such strong contractual language in defense of equal pay for equal work, whether it’s protected classes like women, people of color, and others, or if it’s different campuses in the same institution,” she said.
“If we can achieve genuine equity, not a fraction of it, that would set a precedent for colleges and universities across the United States. In some ways, we have a responsibility not only to our own members but to our colleagues across this country. If we can implement a program of equal pay for equal work, it opens up incredible possibilities. The five of us as plaintiffs in this lawsuit can make a real difference in striking a blow against pay inequity.”
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