Female Professors at NY Vassar College File Class-Action Lawsuit Over Gender Pay Gap

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons via Times Union Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons via Times Union

A group of female professors at Vassar College have filed a class action lawsuit against the college accusing them of knowingly failing to address the gender gap in pay among its faculty members.

The suit represents five current and former full-time female professors who teach subjects ranging from physics to film. According to these professors, Vassar College has knowingly and systematically underpaid, underpromoted, and unfairly evaluated female professors as compared to their male counterparts.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Equal Rights Advocates group and the law firm Lieff Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. The lawsuit was filed on August 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The lawsuit notes that the private liberal arts college based in Poughkeepsie, New York, is the second largest degree-granting institute of higher education for women throughout the nation. Founded in 1861, the college began with a mission “to provide women an education equal to that once available only to men.” Despite the college promising a “commitment to the advancement of equality between the sexes,” the lawsuit maintains that the college did the exact opposite with its disparaging gender pay gap.

The female professors say that Vassar College “attempted to justify” the pay gap, explaining that men were more frequently promoted to full professors earlier in their careers than women were. The plaintiffs argue in their lawsuit that the college should take ownership of the promotion process because they have control over it. They contended that the promotion process “fundamentally favors men over comparable women” largely because part of the promotion process relied on candidates having support from other departments, many of which were headed by men.

The lawsuit cites recent data that shows the pay gap growing over the years. The smallest disparity was a 7.6% gap in the 2003 - 2004 academic school year. During the 2010 to 2011 academic school year, this disparity grew as high as 13.4%. Most recently, during the 2021-2022 academic school year, the pay disparity between men and women was roughly 10%.

The female professors say they began bringing their concerns about the pay gap to school officials as early as 2008. The lawsuit explains that instead of addressing the concerns, Vassar officials decreased the level of transparency about faculty salaries in what the plaintiffs call an effort to mask a “decades-long pattern of underpaying of women.”

Kelly Dermody, an attorney representing the professors, explained that the lawsuit was “very much a decision of last resort” and that “These professors worked for well over a decade individually and as a group trying to elevate these issues internally and solve them discreetly. They have reluctantly taken this step.”

The professors accuse the college of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VII it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their gender. The plaintiffs also accuse Vassar of violating New York’s Equal Pay Law and Human Rights Law.

The college’s Board of Trustees Chair Anthony J. Friscia responded to the settlement explaining that the college “has been working diligently and continuously on the issue of pay equity with a group of professors since January 2019. Throughout this time, Vassar has been transparent and proactive in sharing the results of equity analyses. Vassar believes it pays its faculty fairly and equitably and has complied with the law, and it would like to resolve this issue.”

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
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