Vassar College Hit With Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Women in Pay, Promotions

By | August 30, 2023

Vassar College, founded in 1861 to provide equal education for women, has been hit with a class action suit by female faculty members alleging unfair sex discrimination in compensation, evaluations and promotions of female professors in violation of federal and state civil rights laws.

The plaintiffs maintain that the school “knowingly and systematically” pays female professors less on average than men for doing essentially the same work. The suit cites public and internal reporting of salaries of full professors at the institution.

“Despite publicly claiming a storied role in the movement for gender equality, Vassar has long and privately been underpaying its female professors,” the suit alleges.

The suit also criticizes the school’s evaluation and promotion procedures as discriminatory against women.

Vassar was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the country. It has been coeducational since 1969.

The proposed class action was filed in federal district court in Manhattan on behalf of past and current female Vassar professors. It seeks damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and New York State Human Rights Law for alleged unlawful employment discrimination, as well as changes in the school’s policies that the plaintiffs claim they have tried to achieve in negotiations with the Poughkeepsie, New York-based school’s administration for decades.

“Through this action, Plaintiffs seek to achieve what they were prevented from accomplishing through private internal channels: gender equity for themselves and other female full faculty, and the adoption of fair processes to ensure that future generations of faculty are paid, promoted, and evaluated fairly,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs contend that average salary data show a gender pay disparity for full professors at Vassar in every year for the last two decades and a widening of this gap over time from 7.6% to in 2003 to as much as 10% in 2021.

The plaintiffs claim that female professors have internally raised concerns with the Vassar administration about unequal pay since 2008 but that Vassar has responded by “decreasing the level of transparency about faculty salaries.”

The college was founded in 1861 “to provide women an education equal to that once available only to men.” In 1926, Vassar joined “The Seven Sisters,” a consortium of women’s colleges that also includes Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Radcliffe, and Wellesley.

The five named female plaintiffs are Wendy Graham, a professor of English; Maria Höhn, a professor of history; Mia Mask, a professor in the film department; Cindy Schwarz (Rachmilowitz), a professor in physics and astronomy; and Debra Zeifman, a professor in psychological science. The lawyer for plaintiffs said an additional 35 women full professor are supporters of the complaint.

Topics Lawsuits Education Universities

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.