Syracuse University has agreed to pay more than $3.7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from five women professors who alleged that they were unfairly compensated compared to men in similar positions.
Syracuse admitted no wrongdoing or liability, instead highlighting that it is “committed to ensuring salary equity through ongoing analysis, new tools and appropriate shared governance.”
The disparity in gender pay gaps for faculty, however, has been well-documented in higher education. An American Association of University Professors study showed that full-time female faculty members earn close to 20% less than men, and the Eos Foundation and American Association of University Women noted that despite women comprising a majority of positions in higher ed, most of the top earners are men.
At Syracuse, professors said a biased compensatory and promotion structure had an “adverse impact on them and possibly others.” The agreement gave them a bittersweet victory. The settlement still must be approved by the state Supreme Court.
“We are pleased that Syracuse has agreed to resolve the claims, and the settlement will provide meaningful relief to our clients and other female faculty,” said Deirdre Aaron of Outten & Golden, which represented the five professors.
Syracuse said it made $2 million in salary adjustments (noting a 2017 study) for more than 150 faculty members. However, the professors said that although Syracuse did look into equitable pay and made changes to salaries, “those adjustments were inadequate because they were prospective in nature.” Now, full-time and tenure-track faculty will be eligible to receive as much as $19,000 in compensation, as long as they had been employed by the university in the past seven years. Adjunct or part-time professors and those who held titles ranging from provost to dean to vice president would not be included.
Syracuse has indicated its Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services would address “any member of the campus community who believes they are unfairly compensated based on their gender or some other protected basis.”
“Syracuse University is committed—at all levels, across all faculty and staff positions—to providing an equitable and supportive work environment,” said Steve Bennett, Senior Vice President for Academic Operations. “We continue to work closely with academic leadership to ensure salaries are commensurate with every faculty member’s job responsibilities, efforts and accomplishments, regardless of gender.”
The Syracuse lawsuit is one of a number over the past few years from faculty that have learned on the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, which bars discrimination in compensation.
A year ago, Princeton University was ordered to pay out almost $1 million to more than 106 full-time professors for work dating back to 2012 through 2014 where they were not given equivalent compensation. Three years ago, seven professors at the University of Denver received more than $2.5 million from a settlement over gender pay disparities. And the University of Oregon had to pay one professor $450,000 in a gender discrimination lawsuit.