The AAUP has filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Professor Jennifer Freyd, who sued the University of Oregon (UO) for pay discrimination based on significant pay disparities with male faculty members. A district court had dismissed her suit based, in part, on the court’s conclusions that she and her male colleagues did not perform equal work, and that the reasons for the pay differentials did not have a disparate impact on women.
The district court, in ruling against Professor Freyd, also claimed that the pay differential was justified by the “academic freedom” of faculty to “remake their job.” The AAUP’s brief refutes this argument, writing, “academic freedom is a condition of employment that all faculty hold in common to enhance their ability to engage in teaching, research, and service. It is not a weapon to be wielded as a justification for gender-based inequalities”
The amicus brief notes that “the wage disparity in Freyd’s case is an example of the ongoing gender-based salary inequalities in the academic profession, generally, and for women full professors in doctoral institutions, in particular.”
Professor Freyd is paid substantially less than her male colleagues in the psychology department who hold the same positions as full professors. A 2016 department study found a “significant equity problem with respect to salaries at the full professor level.” The UO psychology department also underwent an external review, which found gender disparity in faculty salaries at the full professor level. It recommended that the department “continue pressing for gender equity in terms of pay at the senior levels of the faculty.” Both reviews traced the disparity back to retention raises given to male professors who pursued outside offers of employment.
While UO policy provides for gender equity adjustments, administrators failed to adjust Professor Freyd’s salary. The AAUP’s brief argues that the UO retention raise practice was not a valid defense to the discrimination claims, since UO policy provides for gender-equity adjustments but didn’t make any after boosting the pay of male faculty.
You can find a link to the full brief here. We will keep you posted as the case develops.
AAUP General Counsel
P.S.–Breaking news update: in a win for affirmative action, a federal judge has upheld Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions standards. The AAUP had previously joined an amicus brief supporting Harvard’s right to exercise its academic judgment in setting admissions standards. More on that here.