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Vassar College Sued for Wage Discrimination

One of the country's most progressive colleges is allegedly engaging in gender wage discrimination. In a lawsuit, five female Vassar professors claim the college underpays, underpromotes, and unfairly evaluates women. These science and liberal arts professors say they have been fighting for equal pay for almost two decades and cite public and internal pay studies that substantiate their claims. The Chronicle of Higher Education published data showing Vassar's gender pay gap for professors has grown, not lessened, from 7.6% to 10% over the last twenty years. Male professors earn an average of $153,238, while female professors earn an average of $139,322.

Founded in 1861, Vassar was historically a women's college and became coeducational in 1969. The five professors are seeking class-action status on behalf of all female professors employed there since 2015. They are asking for back pay, including interest and benefits. Thirty-five female current and emeritus professors released a public statement supporting the lawsuit. They want Vassar to "root out systemic discrimination and rectify the clear pattern of gender pay disparities." Female professors say the college claims the disparity is because the male professors are better negotiators, higher performers, or are promoted earlier in their careers. The 35-female coalition of professors disagrees, pointing to the considerable differences in the respective starting salaries that expand through a biased, subjective merit rating system and a discriminatory promotion system.

Vassar’s board of trustees chair stated the college had been working seriously with the suing faculty since 2019 to resolve these issues. He asserted, "Vassar believes it pays its faculty fairly and equitably and has complied with the law." In 2019, New York amended its equal pay law to prohibit differentials in pay for individuals performing "substantially similar work."  This amendment lowered the burden of proof for plaintiffs. Reporting from the Washington Post indicated that this amendment could be critical to the professors' success with this lawsuit.