Ouch! University of Tennessee to Shell Out $1M to Settle Sex Discrimination Lawsuit
Lawsuit alleged pattern of shortchanging employees of women’s athletics program
You’d think equal pay for equal work would be a no brainer in this day and age … but you might be wrong.
Just ask Jenny Moshak, Heather Mason, and Collin Schlosser. As coaches in the women’s athletic department at the University of Tennessee (UT), Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser were part of a program that was often held up as a shining example of how females could flourish in a collegiate athletic environment.
But underneath the surface, things were not so rosy.
After the women’s and men’s athletic departments were merged in 2009, Moshak and her colleagues got a glimpse into what life was like for the staffers who supported the men’s sports teams. In their view, things were decidedly less than equal.
The trio of coaches sued the University in 2012. The trial was set for this coming April. However, UT just agreed to settle. Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser will split $750,000, but the total settlement will likely top $1 million after attorneys’ fees are calculated.
Let’s take a look at this case and see how some of the circumstances may apply to other workers’ situations.
Separate But Unequal
UT had a unique structure in terms of sports programs. While most colleges and universities had merged their mens’ and women’s athletic programs, UT kept theirs nearly entirely separate. Then, in 2009, it announced plans to begin merging the programs.
According to Moshak and company, that’s when things began to change.
The University started evaluating job duties and compensation. During this process, several staffers who had been supporting the women’s athletic program found out that their counterparts in the men’s program were often paid at much higher rates – in some cases, despite having less experience and inferior performance records.
Mason, for example, found out that her male counterpart made more than $100,000 more than she did.
Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser each filed internal pay grievances.
But, it turns out that being paid less was only the start of their trouble.
As the department merger proceeded, layoffs began. When the reductions-in-force were complete, 15 people were laid off: 12 women and three men. One of the men was Schlosser, who had been part of the women’s program. The remaining eight executive staff positions included only one female, and the senior administrative staff contained 13 men and two women.
Mason was not laid off, but she was eventually terminated in May of 2013.
As for Moshak, she claims that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a head training position, which was ultimately awarded to her male counterpart. She alleges that she was demoted and relieved of her supervisory duties in retaliation for her complaints. She resigned in August of 2013.
Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser sued. In their lawsuit, they claimed that the reorganization of the athletic department “effectively resulted in a mass demotion of females and staff working with female student-athletes.” They stated that they were paid less for performing similar tasks because of their gender or their associations with the women’s teams. They added that the University had “created a testosterone wall effectively prohibiting women from earning equal pay and further denying plaintiffs the opportunity to advance their careers by working in men’s athletics …”
Rather than have to defend its unequal pay practices in court, UT decided to settle.
In 2014, the school settled a lawsuit by another former employee of female athletic department. Debby Jennings alleged that she was terminated due to age and gender discrimination. UT settled that case for $320,000.
What You Should Know About Gender Discrimination
Companies generally have an uphill battle in court when they try to defend paying one class of people more than another.
Still, gender discrimination can be difficult to root out and address for employees.
Compensation rates within most organizations are generally not known among regular staff members. It can be difficult to know who is making what.
Plus, as the plaintiffs allege in this case, staffers who complain about unequal pay may find themselves being retaliated against in subtle, or not-so-subtle ways.
Of course, gender discrimination may also manifest in other ways, such as lack of opportunity or perks, or one class of people being hired, fired, or laid off in disproportionate rates.
Call Us For a Free Consultation
If you suspect that you’ve been subjected to discriminatory practices because of your gender, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney. Having a legal representative is especially important when attempting to fight for systemic discrimination, such as unequal pay, when the company may fear that it will have to reconsider its entire pay structure.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.