Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Court Won't Dismiss Pay Discrimination Case Against Youngstown State

The federal district court for the Northern District of Ohio held last week that Sandra Denman, formerly the general counsel for Youngstown State, could proceed with her claims of wage discrimination and retaliation against her former employer.

In September 2003, Denman analyzed the salaries of executive positions in the university and concluded that they revealed a pattern of discrimination against women. (Youngstown State had recently been advised by an outside consultant to raise the salaries in certain, higher-level pay grades to correct disparities between the salaries of long-serving employees and those of newer hires. However, it apparently incorporated this advice selectively and only to the advantage of male executives.) So Denman sent two memoranda to the university president regarding her conclusions. One warned that YSU might be exposed to liability based on its discriminatory compensation practices. In the other, Denman claimed in her individual capacity that she was being discriminated against because of her gender. Later that month, the President decided that Denman's contract would not be renewed.

Denman filed suit under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, and Title IX, claiming that she was underpaid on account of her sex and that she was terminated in retaliation for speaking up about it. In denying Youngstown State's motion for summary judgment, the court agreed that Denman had stated a case for pay discrimination, as her salary was lower than the men in her pay grade and the men in the President's cabinet--a discrepancy for which Youngstown State could offer no legitimate business explanation. As for the retaliation claim, the court agreed there was a triable issue of fact whether Denman's memo got her fired. The timing of the President's decision, while not conclusive of a causal relationship between the memo and Denman's termination, is certainly suggestive of that. Moreover, there was also evidence that the President only started to gather evidence of Denman's ostensibly poor performance after Denman sent her memo, which casts doubt on the legitimacy of the President's stated reasons for firing Denman. As a result, the court decided that Denman can bring her case to trial.

Citation: Denman v. Youngstown State Univ., 2008 WL 483066 (N.D. Ohio 2008).