University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

 

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law will pay $2.66 million to female law professors who for years were paid less than their male colleagues.

That payment is one of several provisions of a consent decree the school reached with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and approved by a federal judge Thursday.

The consent decree brings to a close years of legal wrangling over faculty pay at the Colorado school. The EEOC sued the school in 2016, three years after longtime law professor Lucy Marsh filed a complaint alleging the school was systematically paying female faculty less than similarly situated men. In addition to Marsh, six other female law professors at the school with tenure joined as plaintiffs. They are: K.K. DuVivier, Nancy Ehrenreich, Kris McDaniel-Miccio, Catherine Smith, Joyce Sterling and Celia Taylor.

Charlotte Sweeney, one of the attorneys representing six of the professors, called the decades-long pay disparity at the law school “shocking,” and a sign that the gender pay gap in the United States persists.

“My hope is that this case will put law schools and other employers everywhere on notice that the EEOC means business—and that women will no longer put up with being paid less than men,” Marsh said in a prepared statement.

The parties submitted the proposed consent decree to U.S. District Senior Judge Wiley Daniel of the District of Colorado on April 24, but the court restricted access to the proposal at the request of both parties until Daniel signed off May 17. Denver University said in a statement Thursday that the settlement will not affect student scholarships, financial aid, or the university’s day-to-day operations.

“While confident in our legal position, we were motivated to action by our strong desire to heal our community and move forward together,” the university’s statement reads. “We believe this settlement will allow us to collectively focus on a present and a future in which the law school—and the DU community as a whole—can unite under our common values of equity, integrity and opportunity.”

In addition to the $2.66 million in back pay, the consent decree requires the law school to:

  • Issue raises to the female faculty, in an amount that was not disclosed.
  • Appoint an independent monitor to review employment decisions for the next six years.
  • Disclose faculty pay on a secure website that professors can access. (Denver is a private institution, hence faculty salaries are not public information as they are at public law schools.)

Officials at Denver Sturm College of Law declined to comment.

According to the suit, Marsh first learned of the law faculty’s gender pay disparity in 2012 when former law Dean Martin Katz issued a memo about faculty raises that disclosed that female professors earned, on average, nearly $16,000 less than their male colleagues. Marsh, who began teaching at the school in 1976, later learned that she was the school’s lowest-paid faculty member. At a subsequent meeting with female faculty, Katz allegedly speculated that their lower pay was a result of their lower performance when compared with their male colleagues.

Marsh in 2013 filed a complaint with the EEOC. The commission concluded in 2015 that the average salary for female full-time law professors at Denver was $139,940 while men earned an average $159,721. The suit called that salary difference of nearly $20,000 a “significantly significant amount.” The gender pay discrepancy dates back to at least 1973, the EEOC found.

Meanwhile, the law school retained an independent consultant to review faculty salaries. The consultant’s 2014 report attributed the gender pay disparities to difference in faculty rank, performance evaluations, administrative roles and faculty age when their current rank was attained. University officials said at the time that they stood by the school’s faculty evaluation and merit pay system.

Nonetheless, the university entered into mediation with the EEOC, but those talks broke down, prompting the commission to sue on behalf of the female full-time professors.

“The tide is turning,” said McDaniel-Miccio, one of the professor in the suit, in a statement. “Equality has triumphed over inequality.”