NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Five female Rutgers professors have filed a pay-equity lawsuit against the university, according to a press release from the union representing 6,000 employees and graduate workers at the New Brunswick, Camden and Newark campuses.

According to the press release, the situation came to light through a program to address faculty salary inequality that was part of the contract negotiated last year by Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

At least 130 faculty members have applied to the program since it first took effect in July 2019, according to the union. Union leaders say Rutgers has refused to divulge the total number of applicants. To date, the administration has not completed processing a single case, the union said.

Sign Up for Clark Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“I expected my application to be reviewed through the lens of a public university that upholds values of excellence, integrity, and fairness,” said Nancy Wolff, distinguished professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and one of the five plaintiffs. “Instead, that lens looks and feels more like a corporate response to placate, delay and limit liability.

“I want equal pay for equal work—to be compensated in accordance with the value that I’ve brought to this university, on the same terms as my male counterparts. I think that’s consistent with what the union negotiated and with the pay equity law passed in New Jersey in 2018.”

The contractual equity program addresses faculty claims of pay discrimination based on race, gender and other categories, as well as inequities across Rutgers’ three campuses.

According to union leaders, many deans reviewed the applications that began coming in last year and green lighted pay equity corrections, but the process stalled in the central administration.

Top administrators appear to have only recently taken the first tentative steps in a handful of cases, said Rebecca Givan, vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

“But from what we’ve been told, both the process for assessing claims and the formula they’re considering for resolving them seem arbitrary and inadequate," she said. "As we understand it, administrators are considering salary adjustments within a percentage range that falls well short of the documented pay gap. This would entirely defeat the purpose of the process and allow inequities to continue indefinitely.”

“It sounds like they’re proposing a fraction of what’s fair,” said another plaintiff, Deepa Kumar, professor of Journalism and Media Studies. “If you’re dealing with the problem of bringing someone up to equal pay for equal work, it makes no sense to use a formula that by definition gets them only part of the way there.”

In a statement provided to TAPinto New Brunswick, a spokesperson for Rutgers said, "It wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss any specifics of the litigation nor to divulge details regarding personnel matters.

"Equity is a top priority for the new president. We are committed to pay equity and expect recommendations for many of the pending claims in the coming weeks.
 
"Creating a new and complex faculty pay equity program that accounts for the variety of disciplines, individual schools, and titles at a university is challenging even in the best of times," the spokesperson said. "The difficulties were magnified after having to divert our personnel resources to responding to the immediate issues presented by the COVID crisis, including preserving jobs and benefits after the shutdown was ordered and telecommuting for employees, as well as a variety of health and safety concerns for everyone who works at Rutgers.
 
"The impact of the global pandemic has touched every aspect of the university, and our immediate focus is and will continue to be the health and safety of every member of our community. Nevertheless, we are committed to resolving outstanding claims as quickly and responsibly as possible."

The lawsuit specifically asks a judge to require fully equal pay for substantially similar work in the individual cases of the five plaintiffs—all women and two women of color. They are senior faculty, each with their own stories of inequality and discrimination.

Wolff estimates that, over just the past 15 years at Rutgers—half the time she has taught at the university—she has been underpaid by half a million dollars compared with equivalent male counterparts.

“And now,” she said, “they’re talking about making up a portion of that and asking us to be grateful for the level of inequality that they’ve decided is acceptable. Well, I’m tired of being grateful. I want fairness.” Kumar similarly estimates that she has lost over $300,000 in earnings during the last 12 years.

Another plaintiff, Judith Storch, distinguished professor of nutritional sciences, now in her 28th year teaching at Rutgers, said she and her colleagues are committed to winning justice not only for themselves but all the other faculty who have made inequity claims so far and the others to come in the future.

“I never realized I was so underpaid until I saw all the data the union compiled on pay inequity,” Storch said. “So now I do want a settlement because I’m so upset. But that’s not my endpoint. My endpoint is justice.”