Psychology professor Jennifer Freyd filed a notice of appeal Wednesday after the pay discrimination lawsuit Freyd v. University of Oregon was dismissed in federal court. This is the most recent development in a two-year court battle between UO and the tenured professor in Eugene, OR.
Freyd, a highly-regarded instructor and researcher on the psychology of sexual violence, asked for a raise “to bring her salary in line with her expected salary” after conducting an analysis of the Psychology Department and becoming concerned that her pay was lower due to her gender, court documents show.
According to court documents, UO chose not to offer her a raise after concluding that her compensation was higher than other professors in the College of Arts and Sciences, of which the Department of Psychology is a part. The discrepancies between her pay and her male colleagues in the Psychology Department were due to retention raises, which Freyd never requested, and not sex discrimination, according to court documents.
Freyd then a filed suit in March 2017 under the Equal Pay Act among other statutes, which requires that men and women be paid equally for equal work. She claimed that while she worked at the university for almost 25 years, her pay was lower than that of male professors who held the same or lesser positions because she is a woman.
“Despite forceful advocacy on her behalf by the head of her department and others, the University of Oregon has not rectified its sex discrimination,” Freyd’s lawyer Jennifer Middleton wrote in the original complaint.
The university responded by saying that tenured faculty often perform duties too different to be comparable under the Equal Pay Act and further claimed that while Freyd is paid less than some male colleagues, “[Freyd] is paid more than any other faculty member within her unit who performs comparable work,” according to court documents.
After more than two years, two amended complaints and two hearings, federal judge Michael J. McShane sided with UO and dismissed the lawsuit on May 2 after the university requested a judgment for dismissal.
“Even when viewed in the light most favorable to Professor Freyd, the evidence establishes that her four male colleagues perform significantly different work than that done by Professor Freyd,” McShane wrote in his opinion. “Because Professor Freyd cannot establish that she performs substantially similar work in the unique setting of a university to that of her comparators, her claims fail.”
The university is grateful for the dismissal. “His decision speaks for itself,” UO spokesperson Molly Blancett said in an emailed statement. “Professor Jennifer Freyd is a respected and valued member of the University of Oregon faculty and a national leader in her field of study, and we believe this decision establishes that she is fairly compensated relative to her peers.”
But Freyd is appealing that decision. “It’s our position that that can’t be what Congress intended and that can’t be right,” Middleton said. “It eviscerates the Equal Pay Act in higher academia because of course, every full professor and even some of the associate professors, they’re all doing different work.”
UO will continue to defend against the lawsuit on appeal, UO spokesperson Molly Blancett said in an email. “The university believes the court correctly decided the case,” she wrote.
Freyd is currently on leave from UO while she teaches at Stanford University as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.