American University is at the center of a lawsuit alleging it discriminated against one of its female professors.
American University recently came under fire in a lawsuit filed by a female Kogod School of Business professor over allegations of gender discrimination. According to the fully tenured professor, Jennifer Oetzel, the university paid her male colleagues “tens of thousands of dollars” more than her.
The suit notes that Oetzel began negotiations regarding her salary two years ago. However, the school allegedly violated the 1963 Equal Pay Act and D.C.’s Human Rights Act of 1977 when it paid her “male colleagues thousands more than her despite her similar skill level.” She learned of the pay discrepancy when she was talking to John Delaney, the Dean of Kogod, in 2019. The suit states, “Dean Delaney went so far as to acknowledge that Plaintiff is underpaid by tens of thousands of dollars.” Delaney also allegedly told her that the “University does not have a set policy on determining pay increases.”
In filing the lawsuit, Oetzel hopes to get a boost in her salary, as well as compensation for attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and back pay. At the moment, her salary is “$189,000, $40,000 less than a male counterpart named in the lawsuit of similar academic skill and experience who was hired in 2018. When commenting on the suit, Jason Ehrenberg, Oetzel’s attorney said, that while the case “likely will not result in large sums of money…it is meant to reveal gender pay issues that have long persisted in academia.” He added:
“This is not a case where someone’s going to get a million dollars…It’s a case where it’s more about doing what we think is right and trying to make sure that pay policies are enforced in accordance with federal law.”
Since joining the University back in 2008, Oetzel has received numerous awards, including the Kogod Endowed Fellowship, the Kogod School of Business Faculty Award for Outstanding Service, the Kogod School of Business Faculty Research Award for Outstanding Service, and the Kogod International Business Professorship. Additionally, the suit notes she has “21 referred journal articles, six invited article/commentaries, and published proceedings, five book chapters, two articles under review and one article in progress.” She currently teaches four courses each year, and she regularly scores above average in her teaching evaluations.
On top of that, “her scholarly articles have been cited 2,218 times, more than twice that of a male colleague who earns $36,000 more than she does,” according to the suit.
So far, the University has pushed back against the allegations and said the claims detailed in the suit might fail “in whole or in part because none of the alleged actions and omissions alleged in the complaint constitute willful conduct within the meaning of the Equal Pay Act.”
Ehrenberg said, “Equal pay cases are important because, though women have made significant strides in the workforce, generally speaking, women are still paid less than men…It’s a matter of, in my mind, what’s right. And what’s right is having equity in pay.”