Press statement: October 16
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Plaintiffs in a pay equity lawsuit against Rutgers University joined leaders of Rutgers AAUP-AFT at a press conference Thursday, October 15, to discuss their individual cases and the groundbreaking program negotiated by the union to address faculty salary inequality that brought those cases to light.
The lawsuit, filed in state superior court the evening before the press conference, comes just over half a century after the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won a settlement in a pay equity lawsuit filed with her female colleagues against Rutgers University-Newark.
- Watch the press conference at YouTube
- Read statements from plaintiffs Deepa Kumar, Nancy Wolff, and Judith Storch
- Read the lawsuit in state superior court
- Read the October 15 press release on the lawsuit
In its last contract, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union which represents full-time faculty and graduate workers, won a pioneering pay equity program to address faculty claims of pay discrimination based on race, gender, and other categories, as well as inequities across Rutgers’ three campuses—Newark, Camden and New Brunswick.
According to union leaders, at least 130 faculty members—Rutgers has refused to divulge the total number—have applied to the program since it took effect in July 2019. Many deans reviewed the applications that began coming in last year and greenlighted pay equity corrections, union leaders say, but the process stalled among top administrators. To date, the administration has not completed processing a single case.
“Real equity is possible only if the institution as a whole is committed to it,” Deepa Kumar, one of five plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, said at the press conference. “That is why the plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit—to redress unlawful pay practices at Rutgers. Every faculty member deserves to be valued for the sum total of their contributions—research, teaching, and service—and to be paid equally for substantially equal work. Nothing less than that will do.”
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.
Rebecca Givan, Vice President of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and an Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, introduced the press conference by saying the five plaintiffs “have invested decades of their lives in Rutgers, but Rutgers has not invested in them. Or rather, Rutgers has invested in them at a discounted rate.
“None of these women preferred to pursue litigation. They all love their jobs, their work, and their students. They have dedicated themselves to the mission of the university. Their achievements are staggering. They inspire me in their accomplishments in the areas of research, teaching and service. They are here not for themselves but on behalf of all who are paid inequitably, many of whom don’t have the protection of tenure.”
Nikol Alexander-Floyd, a member of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT Executive Council and an Associate Professor of Political Science, set the pay equity lawsuit in a wider context of struggles for social and racial justice, both at Rutgers and around the country.
“We know that we have broken some barriers,” Alexander-Floyd said. “There is a difference, however, between formal equality and substantive equality. Formal equality is not enough. We need equity. It’s not enough for us to have new faces in new places, and have the same old business as usual operating. So today represents a call to action that many of us answered at Rutgers University.”
Another plaintiff, Judith Storch, a Distinguished Professor of Nutritional Sciences in her 28th year at Rutgers, spoke at the press conference about her reaction when she read the comparative salary data compiled by the union in preparation for the pay equity program.
“It’s safe to say that I was stunned,” Storch said. “Floored, astounded at how much less I was being paid than the average of my largely male counterparts, namely Distinguished Professors in the Biomedical Sciences. And then I looked further and saw that in virtually every category, for every rank in every department or program, women were being paid less than men.
“This struck me as clearly unjust and unfair. ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’ is a central tenet that I was raised with and that informs my thinking and, I believe, my actions as an individual…My hope is that by speaking out along with my sister plaintiffs, I might help bring to light the problem of pay inequity at Rutgers.”
Nancy Wolff, a Distinguished Professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, with 29 years at the university, told the press conference: “Today is not one of my proudest days at Rutgers. I am deeply saddened that I have been compelled to seek legal remedy against my beloved university. But my loyalty will always weigh heaviest for values that adhere to principles of fair treatment.
“And because I am a senior, tenured, accomplished, and principled faculty member, I have a duty to stand up and speak up when I see wrongdoing. I am a party to this lawsuit because there is wrongdoing here.”
“Who we are is as clear as the wrongdoing,” Wolff concluded. “Who Rutgers University is will be apparent by what it does and does not do in response to the evidence of wrongdoing. All I know for sure is: this is not how we treat women in a just and fair community or in a beloved community. I am hopeful that Rutgers administration will rise up by lifting up the economic welfare of female faculty in parity with their male counterparts by adopting a zero tolerance for pay inequity, in both word and action.”
The university has hired a notoriously anti-union law firm, Jackson Lewis, to advise it on the pay equity program, according to financial documents obtained by Rutgers AAUP-AFT through the Open Public Records Act. The strategy of endlessly delaying action until workers become exhausted is a classic Jackson Lewis technique.
The efforts to achieve faculty pay equity today follow in the footsteps of a struggle more than 50 years ago. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who taught at Rutgers Law School from 1963 to 1972, was told outright by the dean when she was hired that she would be paid less than a male professor with equivalent experience because he had “a wife and two children to support,” Ginsburg later remembered, while “you have a husband who has a good-paying job.”
“But the women at Rutgers Newark…began an equal pay suit,” Ginsburg told an audience at Berkeley Law School last December. “And after some years, the suit was settled in 1969. The lowest increase that any woman got was $6,000, which in those days was a lot more than it is today.” In those same years she was fighting for equity for herself, Ginsburg became a pioneer in advocating for women’s legal equality, first as a lawyer and later as a judge.
Pay equity is a top priority for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who in 2018 signed one of the most sweeping equal pay laws in the United States. “From our first day in Trenton, we acted swiftly to support equal pay for women in the workplace and begin closing the gender wage gap,” Governor Murphy said in a statement.
Around the same time, Rutgers AAUP-AFT was locked in a conflict with management over a new contract. The union organized a survey of members to find out what they most wanted to see in the next agreement with the administration. Some 2,000 ranked a provision to achieve faculty pay equity as a top priority, said Kumar, a former president of the union. She said Governor Murphy sent the union a statement in support of its gender and race equity platform.
Givan said that Rutgers AAUP-AFT “has consistently prioritized taking care of all of us. We’ve proposed that faculty furlough and/or defer their raises in order to protect the most vulnerable workers from layoffs and cuts, and we will continue to say that during this case. Part of a people-centered approach is making sure that women and people of color and colleagues in Camden and Newark are paid as much as their male counterparts, their white counterparts, and their New Brunswick counterparts.”
Kumar stressed the wider implications of this struggle for equality at Rutgers. “I believe we’re the only higher ed union to have such strong contractual language in defense of equal pay for equal work, whether it’s protected classes like women, people of color, and others, or if it’s different campuses in the same institution,” she said.
“If we can achieve genuine equity, not a fraction of it, that would set a precedent for colleges and universities across the United States. In some ways, we have a responsibility not only to our own members but to our colleagues across this country. If we can implement a program of equal pay for equal work, it opens up incredible possibilities. The five of us as plaintiffs in this lawsuit can make a real difference in striking a blow against pay inequity.”
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