CWBA Celebrates Equal Pay Win

‘DU 8’ honored for EEOC case against law school

The Colorado Women’s Bar Association and CWBA Foundation hosted an event celebrating the win eight DU Sturm College of Law professors saw in a pay equity dispute with the law school. / LAW WEEK FILE

The “DU 8” — the group of tenured University of Denver Sturm College of Law professors who received a settlement after bringing pay discrimination complaints against the law school — keep finding ways to celebrate their legal win.

The Colorado Women’s Bar Association, CWBA Foundation and a list of more than 100 sponsors hosted an event Tuesday at the Denver Athletic Club to celebrate the professors for their win in the larger war for pay equity. The organization’s event brought together the professors along with a crowded banquet hall of attendees to toast the group. 

The DU 8 — as they’ve come to be known — gained recognition in the community for bringing an EEOC complaint against the DU law school for a gap in wages between male and female faculty. In 2013, DU Law professor Lucy Marsh learned she was being paid significantly less than professors much younger and less experienced than her. Marsh had been teaching at the school since 1973 and was the lowest-paid member of the faculty by roughly $40,000, as she learned. 

According to her complaint, and as told by Colorado Women’s Bar Association Foundation president Barbara Grandjean, Marsh brought up that information to then-dean Martin Katz who assured her there was no problem and didn’t offer anything to correct the situation. An EEOC investigation, however, later found the disparity wasn’t isolated to Marsh — women faculty members earned nearly $20,000 below their male counterparts on average.

Marsh initiated the legal dispute with the school through an EEOC complaint. Seven other professors later joined Marsh in the dispute against the law school. The group — Marsh, Kris McDaniel-Miccio, Sheila Hyatt, Catherine Smith, Joyce Sterling, K.K. DuVivier, Celia Taylor and Nancy Ehrenreich — was recognized at the event last week for “taking one for the team” as Colorado Lawyers Committee executive director Connie Talmage said.

Sheila Hyatt, who died before the end of the litigation, provided a deposition from her hospital bed, which was a boon to their cause. The women were all thanked for entering the fray, since, as Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart said to the group, “being a plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit sucks.” She said the women were opened up to attack in order to vindicate their rights. A press release announcing the settlement in May said the law school defended the pay practices by saying they were justified according to performance reviews, but, as pointed out at Tuesday’s reception, many of the women had received awards for excellence in teaching.

The group was awarded $2.66 million in May through a settlement with the university, which covered back pay, compensatory damages and attorney’s fees. The professors also received pay raises in addition to the settlement amount. In the settlement, the university also agreed to policy changes, which include pay transparency for all professors. The university also agreed to hire an independent labor economist to conduct a pay equity study each year, and an independent consultant to review the school’s internal equal employment policies to ensure compliance. 

Hart introduced the eight professors Tuesday evening but first connected their experience to the greater issue of pay equity: “what they face is not unique,” she said. As the former chair of the salary review committee at the University of Colorado Law School, Hart saw first-hand what pay looked like at Colorado’s other law school. She said former dean Phil Weiser took measures to correct the disparity, but there still was a need to take those measures.

And across the country, equal pay laws are still being figured out. Hart referenced efforts through legislation as well as litigation to shape the boundaries of what is covered by the Equal Pay Act. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided past pay history can’t justify pay discrimination. Also, states around the country are considering equal pay laws that prohibit discrimination in pay, though a salary history bill in Colorado failed earlier this year.

“This fight needs to be taken seriously,” Hart said.

— Tony Flesor

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