DU Law School Settles Pay Discrimination Suit With EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a settlement Thursday in a lawsuit brought against the University of Denver Sturm College of Law on behalf of seven tenured female professors for claims of unequal pay.

The college will pay $2.66 million to the professors to cover back pay, compensatory damages and attorney fees. EEOC regional attorney Mary O’Neill said in a news conference the women also received pay raises, which are separate from the settlement amount.

The university also agreed to policy changes within the law school in a six-year consent decree, including pay transparency for all professors. The university will hire an independent labor economist to conduct a pay equity study each year, and it will also hire an independent consultant to review DU’s internal equal employment policies to ensure compliance. In addition, the university agreed to provide advance notification of criteria for compensation such as bonuses and raises so faculty will understand how they are being evaluated.

“It’s a lot of money for an Equal Pay Act case, and it’s in academia and it’s in a law school,” O’Neill said. “We think that’s sort of ironic. Law schools should be teaching justice, and there was injustice occurring at DU Law School.”

The EEOC brought the lawsuit in 2016 alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII after an investigation found the law school had engaged in systematic pay discrimination against female faculty for decades. Professor Lucy Marsh had discovered the average salary at the end of 2012 for female full professors at Sturm was about $15,000 less than for men of the same status. Marsh filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC in 2013, prompting the agency’s investigation. She joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and six other tenured women professors at Sturm eventually followed.

“DU undertook the settlement process with great seriousness, deliberation and care for all involved,” said university chancellor Rebecca Chopp in a news release Thursday. “While confident in our legal position, we made this decision because of a strong desire to heal our community and move forward together.”

Though the policy changes apply only to the law school, EEOC supervisory trial attorney Rita Kittle said she hopes the settlement will prompt the rest of DU to implement a system of pay transparency for all faculty and staff, not just law professors.

“Pay discrimination flourishes in the dark,” she said, adding that the agency often finds in such cases women employees often do not discover they make less than their male colleagues for years because they’re not allowed to discuss their salaries. “Pay transparency is the biggest hedge against pay discrimination. Bringing it into the light is what makes it stop.”