EEOC vs. Higher Education: Recent Laws and Interpretations Impacting Faculty Discrimination

By Wallace, Dawn; King, Phyllis | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, January 2013 | Go to article overview

EEOC vs. Higher Education: Recent Laws and Interpretations Impacting Faculty Discrimination


Wallace, Dawn, King, Phyllis, Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


INTRODUCTION

Throughout the past forty years, institutions of higher education have become well acquainted with Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and other laws that prohibit discrimination of protected classes. As incidents of discrimination have been played out in the courts, administrators have learned that sovereignty laws do not protect institutions from lawsuits based discrimination (Anderson v. State University of New York at New Paltz, 2000); Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, 2005; & Nanda v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, et.al., 2002), that hiring, salary determinations, and promotions must occur through well-documented and fair practices (EEOC v. Georgia Southwestern, et.al., 1985), and that the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) will seek remedies and sanctions against universities and colleges that violate the law.

Yet, women and other protected classes continue to lag behind white males. For example, Dey and Hill (2007) found that, "controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors normally associated with pay, college-educated women still earn less than their male peers earn." Also, the National Women's Legal Counsel (NWLC), citing U.S. census information, states that "women today are paid, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, and women of color are paid even less" (NLWC, 2011). More specifically related to higher education, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has published studies illustrating the condition of women in the academe. Their research has found that "on average, compared to men, women earn less, hold lower-ranking positions, and are less likely to have tenure" (AAUW, 2004). Further, they assert that sex discrimination in higher education persists because "universities and colleges have been powerful cultural institutions in western culture since medieval times" (West, 2012). Given the disparity that still exists in higher education institutions, continued examination and evaluation of current issues are important. As such, the purpose of this paper is to present legal issues, remedies, and settlements that impact college and university pay discrimination.

Equal Pay, Title VII, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Pay disputes in higher education usually start with a charge of discrimination filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC). Plaintiffs typically file a complaint based on Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or a combination. The EEOC's enforcement of pay discrimination laws in the higher education arena has often proven to be a slow and arduous process. One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome has been decoding the subjective, unclear ways that universities award salaries and/or salary increases. Also, past law that set timeliness deadlines for reporting discrimination has barred many individuals from arguing their discrimination cases in a court of law. However, there have been successes in pay disparities through litigation and/or settlements. In recent years, the Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has successfully won lawsuits and settlements against universities on behalf of employees who have been victims of discrimination.

EEOC v. Eastern Michigan University (EMU), 2000

Dr. Pamela Speelman was the second lowest paid professor in her department, despite the fact that she had a higher rank and more seniority than four of her male colleagues. The EEOC's investigation found no justification for the significantly lower wages the university paid Dr. Speelman as compared to her male counterparts. In a Consent Decree, the university agreed to raise Dr. Speelman's salary to the same level as the highest of her male colleagues. EMU also agreed to provide Dr. Speelman $100,000 in monetary compensation, consisting of $45,400 to make up for the difference in her pay for the past seven years; $4,600 to her retirement fund, and an additional $50,000 to resolve a related sex discrimination case. …

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EEOC vs. Higher Education: Recent Laws and Interpretations Impacting Faculty Discrimination
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