Female professors employed by Vassar College alleged that the school — one of the Seven Sisters, a group of women’s colleges that says it strives toward women’s equity — routinely underpays its female faculty compared to male faculty in a lawsuit filed Aug. 30.
The plaintiffs, in the class action suit filed in a New York district court, also alleged the school “systematically delays” the promotion of female professors and that the college’s performance evaluation system is “marred by discrimination,” indicating facially neutral policies have had a disparate impact on women in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Pay disparities “began at hire,” the suit alleged, and pay increases over time at a percentage of prior salary.
The suit also alleged the college responded to ongoing complaints about pay transparency — which had been known about by the college since at least 2011, according to the complaint — by decreasing communication on the topic. “Vassar’s turn toward opacity would be problematic for any institution, let alone one that so publicly claims to strive for equity and inclusion,” the complaint said.
“Through this action, Plaintiffs seek to achieve what they were prevented from accomplishing through private internal channels: gender equity for themselves and other female full faculty, and the adoption of fair processes to ensure that future generations of faculty are paid, promoted, and evaluated fairly.”
Vassar’s chair of its board of trustees, Anthony J. Friscia, released a statement in response to the allegations.
“Vassar College has been working diligently and continuously on the issue of pay equity with a group of professors since January 2019,” Friscia said. “Throughout this time, Vassar has been transparent and proactive in sharing the results of equity analyses. Vassar believes it pays its faculty fairly and equitably and has complied with the law, and it would like to resolve this issue. As chair of the Board of Trustees, I regret that the group of faculty members has now initiated litigation against Vassar.”
Setting salary based on salary history is a traditional pay-setting technique, but one that has been targeted by legislation in an attempt to level the playing field for men and women. Supporters of salary history bans posit that salary history is one way women’s salaries are routinely kept lower than men’s.