Patricia MacCorquodale

A University of Arizona women's studies professor has filed a $2 million class-action federal lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents for systematic gender discrimination at the school, saying 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 as much as $100,000 — compared to other male deans including her less-experienced successors.

She attributed the pay disparity at the school to Provost Andrew Comrie, and his predecessors who have the power to appoint deans and settle their salaries.

Also Monday, the university 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 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.

"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, which was sent to all employees.

ABOR 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 once 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 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 “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, she alleges 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 dean of the Honors College. In 2017, the university announced that Terry Hunt, dean of the University of Oregon's Honors College, was the new UA Honors dean. The lawsuit said the school is paying Hunt $230,000, nearly $70,000 more than MacCorquodale earned as dean.

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."

"Provost Comrie's 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 lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states 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 the school to "escape discriminatory misconduct by Provost Comrie."

MacCorquodale's lawsuit was filed under the federal Equal Pay Act and was seeking collective action status that would allow others "similarly situated" at the UA to be covered by the lawsuit. She is being represented by the Sanford Heisler Sharp law firm.