Kogod professor sues University in gender discrimination lawsuit

Professor Jennifer Oetzel is alleging she is paid less than male counterparts of equal skill and experience

Kogod professor sues University in gender discrimination lawsuit

The Eagle’s Editor-in-Chief Clare Mulroy did not edit this piece because of personal affiliations to Jennifer Oetzel.

A female Kogod School of Business professor filed a lawsuit against American University on the basis of gender discrimination in April for paying her male colleagues “tens of thousands of dollars” more than the University is paying her.

Jennifer Oetzel, a fully tenured professor since 2017, began salary negotiations with the University two years ago, according to the lawsuit. Oetzel is alleging that the University is violating the 1963 Equal Pay Act and D.C.’s Human Rights Act of 1977 for paying her male colleagues thousands more than her despite her similar skill level. 

According to the lawsuit, Oetzel’s wages came up in conversations between her and John Delaney, the Dean of Kogod, in 2019.

“Dean Delaney went so far as to acknowledge that Plaintiff is underpaid by tens of thousands of dollars,” the suit read.

The University does not have a set policy on determining pay increases, Delaney told Oetzel, according to the lawsuit.

As of April 2019, Oetzel hoped to gain a salary bump, attorney’s fees, punitive damages and back pay. The plaintiff’s current salary is $189,000, $40,000 less than a male counterpart named in the lawsuit of similar academic skill and experience who was hired in 2018. 

This case likely will not result in large sums of money, but it is meant to reveal gender pay issues that have long persisted in academia, according to Oetzel’s lawyer Jason Ehrenberg.

“This is not a case where someone’s going to get a million dollars,” Ehrenberg told The Eagle. “It’s a case where it’s more about doing what we think is right and trying to make sure that pay policies are enforced in accordance with federal law.”

Since Oetzel began her work at the University in 2008, she has been awarded the Kogod Endowed Fellowship, the Kogod School of Business Faculty Award for Outstanding Service, the Kogod School of Business Faculty Research Award for Outstanding Service and the Kogod International Business Professorship, according to the lawsuit. 

Oetzel has 21 referred journal articles, six invited article/commentaries and published proceedings, five book chapters, two articles under review and one article in progress. She teaches four courses per year and her teaching evaluations are above the Management Department and Business School averages, according to the lawsuit.

Oetzel said her scholarly articles have been cited 2,218 times, more than twice that of a male colleague who earns $36,000 more than she does.

The University responded on May 24 in a statement denying several of the allegations. It did not deny that the named male professors were paid more than the plaintiff, but that “it was difficult to determine who a true comparator might be.” The University asserted that the male individuals identified in the lawsuit were not good comparators.

The statement also says that the claims may fail “in whole or in part because none of the alleged actions and omissions alleged in the complaint constitute willful conduct within the meaning of the Equal Pay Act.”

“Equal pay cases are important because, though women have made significant strides in the workforce, generally speaking, women are still paid less than men,” Ehrenberg said. “It’s a matter of, in my mind, what’s right. And what’s right is having equity in pay.”

ssolano@theeagleonline.com 

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