Five current and former professors accused one of the country's first all-women colleges of discriminating against its female employees.
The women filed a lawsuit against Vassar College on Aug. 30 alleging the school — originally founded in 1861 as an all-women university — historically underpaid and halted promotions for women through a prejudiced evaluation process favoring men.
"Through this action, we seek to achieve what we were prevented from accomplishing through private internal channels: gender equity for ourselves 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 plaintiffs said in a joint statement.
The lawsuit named Wendy Graham, Maria Höhn, Mia Mask, Cindy Schwarz and Debra Zeifman as plaintiffs, but a letter to Vassar included 36 other female faculty who signed as supporters. The plaintiffs requested back pay since 2015 for all current and former full-time female employees and asked for a new review and compensation process.
Women at Vassar are paid less for jobs similar to men with gender pay disparities beginning at hire, according to lawsuit. During the 2021-2022 school year, the average male employee made $153,238, nearly $14,000 dollars more than their female colleagues, the plaintiffs allege.
The Poughkeepsie, New York, college, which became co-ed in 1969, calls itself a "pioneer for women’s education" devoted to "a commitment to the advancement of equality between the sexes." In 1926, it joined with six other universities dedicated to promoting women’s education, forming the Seven Sisters.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Vassar alleged women are often initially denied full professorship or are met with more resistance than men. Women have also received lower merit rankings, with male faculty at an average of 2.41 and women at 2.24, according to the suit.
"The Board of Trustees is proud of Vassar’s thorough performance review process," the board's chair, Anthony Friscia, said in a statement. "Faculty salaries are set by a faculty-led, peer-review process, per Vassar’s governance structure."
"Vassar College has been working diligently and continuously on the issue of pay equity with a group of professors since January 2019," he continued. "Vassar believes it pays its faculty fairly and equitably and has complied with the law, and it would like to resolve this issue."
But the plaintiffs allege Vassar has refused to make amends since it became aware of their concerns in 2008. They also said the college decreased transparency when it stopped sharing average and median salary raises.
For too long, Vassar has refused to equitably value their contributions to the College," Kelly Dermody, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "We hope this case will prompt Vassar to finally live up to the storied role in the movement for gender equality that it so publicly claims."