Staffers Claimed a ‘Wall of Testosterone’ Stood Between Them and Equal Pay
Separate but unequal treatment for employees of men’s and women’s sports programs
A recent court case may demonstrate that the pay gap between so-called men’s work and women’s work is still a reality.
A trio of former coaches from the University of Tennessee (UT) sued the school after learning that the employees of the women’s athletics program weren’t paid on par with the employees of the men’s athletics program.
The school recently agreed to settle the lawsuit rather than go to trial.
This case highlights some interesting examples of how institutional gender discrimination can play out. Let’s take a look at what happened at UT, and then discuss what it means to other employees who may be dealing with unlawful sex discrimination.
Segregated Programs Hid Unfair Treatment
The women’s athletic program at UT was often cited as a positive example of how to run female sports programs at a collegiate level.
Jenny Moshak, Heather Mason, and Collin Schlosser were all coaches in the program and, by their accounts, they were generally quite happy with their jobs.
That sentiment changed in 2009 when the men’s and women’s athletic departments merged. That’s when Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser learned that their counterparts in the men’s program were often paid much higher salaries. In some cases, employees in the men’s program commanded higher wages even though they had less experience and inferior performance records.
For example, Mason discovered that her counterpart in the men’s program made more than $100,000 more than she did.
Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser each filed internal complaints about unequal pay.
But compensation wasn’t the only problem.
With the consolidation of the athletics program, layoffs began. Fifteen people were laid off, including 12 women and three men. Schlosser was terminated. The remaining eight executive staff positions included only one female, and the senior administrative staff consisted of 13 men and only two women.
Mason and Moshak made it through the reduction-in-force, but life was far from rosy.
Mason was terminated in May 2013.
Moshak claims that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a head training position, which was given to her male counterpart. She alleges that the school retaliated against her because she voiced her complaints. She was demoted and relieved of her supervisory duties. She resigned in August 2013.
Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser sued. In their lawsuit, they claimed that UT 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 ...”
They alleged that the reorganization of the athletic department “effectively resulted in a mass demotion of females and staff working with female student-athletes,” and that they were paid less for performing similar tasks because of their gender or their associations with the university’s women’s teams.
The case was supposed to go to trial in April 2016, but UT decided to settle before having to defend its actions in court. Moshak, Mason, and Schlosser will split $750,000. However, the total settlement will likely top $1 million after attorneys’ fees are calculated.
This is not the first time UT has decided to settle a case stemming from the women’s athletic program. In 2014, the school paid $320,000 to another former employee of that department who alleged that she was terminated due to age and gender discrimination.
When Discrimination Is Hard to Prove
Let’s face it: companies that believe their entire pay structure may suddenly be open to scrutiny are likely to want to deal with the situation quickly and quietly. That’s why it’s not unusual for employees who complain about pay to find themselves suddenly terminated for a supposedly unrelated reason.
Plus, since regular staff members in most organizations generally do not have information about employee compensation rates, it can be difficult to pinpoint unequal treatment.
That’s why it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney if you feel that you’ve been denied fair compensation, or treated unlawfully in another way, due to your gender.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.