A University of Arizona women’s studies professor has filed a $2 million federal lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents for systematic gender discrimination at the school, claiming she was consistently underpaid as a dean compared to male colleagues.
According to the lawsuit, Patricia MacCorquodale, who has worked at the UA since 1978 and was dean of the school’s Honors College for almost 25 years, was “dramatically underpaid” — sometimes by more than $100,000 — compared to male deans including her less-experienced successors. She also claims she was retaliated against by the university for complaining about the pay differences.
MacCorquodale, now a tenured professor, attributed the pay disparity at the school to Provost Andrew Comrie and his predecessors who have the power to appoint deans and set their salaries.
Also Monday, the UA announced that Comrie, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, was resigning from that position and returning full time to the faculty. Jeffrey B. Goldberg, dean of the College of Engineering, will serve as acting provost, according to an email released by the school from UA President Robert C. Robbins.
In the email, Robbins said Comrie had informed him just after the new year that he had decided to step down from his position, having served more than five years as provost.
“Over the last few weeks, he and I have been discussing an approach to the transition and we are announcing today that he will return to his primary faculty role in the School of Geography and Development,” Robbins said in his email.
The regents and the university declined to comment on the lawsuit.
During annual performance reviews, MacCorquodale routinely discussed the pay gap with provosts starting soon after she was appointed dean of the newly created Honors College in 1999. Her requests were disregarded, the lawsuit stated, except for in 2007 when she received a $17,033 salary bump, which still did not close the gap.
Between 2013 and 2016, her last three years as honors dean, MacCorquodale made between $153,000 and $162,800. In the same time period, the lawsuit stated, the average male dean made between $308,000 and $320,300 despite the fact that in 2015, she was the second-longest-serving dean.
In 2016, the UA again upped her pay by $26,000, but “this raise merely brought her salary into line with that of regular faculty in her academic department, based on her seniority, academic productivity and service to the University,” the lawsuit read.
After announcing her intent to step down in June 2017 after her five-year contract ended as dean, she alleged that she was pushed out of the position a year early by Comrie in retaliation.
Elliott Cheu, former associate dean of the College of Science since 2008, was appointed interim dean in her place. He made $100,000 more a year than she did in her last and 17th year in the position, the lawsuit said. She also found that he made more as an assistant dean than she did as the honors dean .
In mid-2017, the university announced that Terry Hunt, dean of the University of Oregon’s Honors College, would be the new UA Honors dean. The lawsuit said the school is paying Hunt $230,000, nearly $70,000 more than MacCorquodale earned as dean.
“The preferential treatment given to Dr. Cheu and Dr. Hunt ... at her expense plainly shows that the striking salary differentials between male and female deans at the University cannot be attributed to legitimate distinctions among the dean positions. Instead, they are based on gender,” the lawsuit stated.
Comrie, who is not named as a defendant, is mentioned throughout the lawsuit as helping the school perpetuate a “culture that marginalizes, demeans and undervalues women.”
His “ attitude and behavior towards women played a prominent role in his compensation decision and refusal to make appropriate adjustments for women who were underpaid relative to their male peers,” the suit stated.
“Unlike the male deans, female deans have been subjected to sexist comments and increased scrutiny over their performance, and their contributions have been overlooked by the Provost,” the lawsuit stated.
“Provost Comrie’s conduct is particularly notable and alarming in light of his near-total control over deans’ pay. Provost Comrie’s attitude and behavior towards women played a prominent role in his compensation decisions and refusal to make appropriate equity adjustments for women who were underpaid relative to their male peers,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit stated Comrie has a history of making “sexist and demeaning comments towards female deans.”
“For example, in a meeting with a female dean, Provost Comrie inappropriately criticized her appearance, stating that she should wear skirts more often — a comment that was wholly irrelevant to her job. In the same meeting, he also told this female dean that another female dean had a ‘Hilary Clinton complex.’”
The lawsuit said at least one female dean left her dean’s position to “escape discriminatory misconduct by Provost Comrie.”
MacCorquodale’s lawsuit was filed under the federal Equal Pay Act and seeks collective-action status that would allow others “similarly situated” at the UA to be covered by the lawsuit, said James Richardson, one of her attorneys. She is being represented by the Sanford Heisler Sharp law firm.
The lawsuit seeks at least $1 million in pay adjustments, including back pay, to anyone covered by the lawsuit. It also seeks a minimum of $1 million in damages.
“Patricia has complained for a long time,” Richardson said. “If it takes a lawsuit, that’s what it takes. ... It’s 2018.”