The University of Arizona is still facing a $20 million class-action lawsuit filed by female faculty members who claim, among other things, that they have been underpaid.

Thousands of University of Arizona employees could receive a coveted Christmas gift this year: time off with pay during the UA’s annual holiday shutdown.

Around 8,500 personnel — roughly two-thirds of the UA workforce — would get extra days off between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 under a proposed new compensation policy now under internal review.

The change, if adopted, would benefit administrators, classified staff and postdoctoral scholars by keeping their full paychecks coming while the university is closed.

It would not affect faculty members, who have a different pay system and typically don’t work during the holiday break.

The proposal is in the draft stage and its potential financial impact was not immediately available Wednesday.

If the change is approved, “I think people will be ecstatic,” said Christina Rocha, who chairs the UA’s Classified Staff Council.

For years, Rocha said, many UA employees had to figure out on their own how to keep getting their full pay over the holidays. Some took vacation time, others worked extra hours in advance to take compensatory time off.

But the workarounds didn’t work for everyone. New hires, for example, often lost pay since they hadn’t yet banked enough vacation time or compensatory time to cover the gap.

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The current setup does not make for happy holidays, said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president in charge of human resources at the UA, which is Southern Arizona’s largest employer.

“Over the years a large number of employees have expressed frustration with the university closure because they are concerned about their new colleagues and also dislike having to use vacation days during a time they wouldn’t willingly take vacation,” she said.

Vaillancourt said it’s “a pretty common practice in higher education” to provide paid time off during the holiday break.

Rocha said UA President Ann Weaver Hart issued a special directive last holiday season that provided paid time off on a one-time basis. The proposed policy change would enshrine the practice in future years.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or calaimo@tucson.com.

Reporter

Carol Ann has been with the Star since 1999, but has been an investigative reporter for more than 30 years. She's won numerous awards in the U.S. and Canada. In 2003, she was a war correspondent in Iraq and was a Knight-Wallace Fellow in Michigan in 2008.