Five tenured professors have filed a lawsuit against Rutgers University for paying them less than their male counterparts. Two of the professors are “distinguished professors,” the highest honor bestowed on an educator.
One of the plaintiffs, Professor Nancy Wolff who teaches public policy, told The New York Times that professors work hard to inspire students, so there is a need to “safeguard the principles of economic justice within their community.”
The university refused to comment on the lawsuit directly, but they did mention that creating an equitable pay program for a faculty can be “challenging even in the best of times.”
The issue is not just about gender, though.
Professor Deepa Kumar, hailing from India and one of the professors suing Rutgers, was hired in 2004 along with four white men and women professors. They have received higher raises, and Kumar claims that other professors in her department earn $25,000 more than she does.
Every faculty member “deserves to be valued for the sum total of their contributions — research, teaching and service — and to be paid equally for substantially equal work,” she continued. “Nothing less than that will do.” —@ProfessorKumar #WeRNotDisposable
— Rutgers AAUP-AFT (@ruaaup) October 19, 2020
Kumar shared that she filed the lawsuit “because I don’t want to see others go through what I have gone through.”
The professor of journalism and media studies added that it is “emotionally draining” to always try to prove that she is worth as much as her white or male colleagues. She described the grounds for not getting an increase as “at best flimsy.”
Just like Kumar, the other plaintiffs say that they negotiated with the university for increases, but they have fallen on deaf ears. Professor Wolff even thought about leveraging offers from other universities, but didn’t want to “game the system.” She is deeply saddened that she had to resort to legal means.
Rebecca Givan, vice president of the Rutgers’ faculty union, said that women became optimistic after their negotiations. Rutgers even had their equity audit which advocated diversity and inclusion. However, the university did not act with urgency to give the increases. It was a “gut punch” for the professors.
Law on Their Side
The state of New Jersey has an Equal Pay Act that prohibits discrimination in terms of salaries and compensation. This is the basis for the lawsuit they filed in the state Superior Court.
The suit was also filed days after Princeton female professors were awarded almost $1.2 million in settlement after a federal inquiry was conducted regarding the school’s pay equity.