University of Arizona Gender Discrimination Class Action

Case Type: Gender Discrimination

Organization: University of Arizona Board of Regents

After filing a gender discrimination action on behalf of female Deans at the University of Arizona in January, the national civil rights law firm Sanford Heisler Sharp is now pursuing a second action for female science professors at the University. Sanford Heisler Sharp filed a gender discrimination class action and collective action lawsuit today against the Arizona Board of Regents in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of Katrina Miranda, Ph.D., a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and other similarly situated female science professors at the state’s flagship research institution.

The Complaint, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA), alleges that the University underpays and underpromotes female professors in the College of Science. Dr. Miranda, the lead Plaintiff, has suffered substantial pay disparities amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per year compared to her male counterparts at the University, and the institution has failed to promote her in a manner equal to that of her male peers.

According to the Complaint, the University has denied Dr. Miranda and other women in her Department a raise since at least 2011, while providing significant raises to their male colleagues. And, in 2016, the Dean of the College of Science and Provost of the University denied Dr. Miranda’s promotion to full Professor despite the Department Head’s and College faculty’s recommendations in favor of the promotion.

Further, the suit alleges, the University fails to address complaints of gender discrimination and retaliates against those who complain. When Dr. Miranda complained about discriminatory treatment she experienced at the University, she faced significant retaliation from her superiors. This alleged retaliation included attempts to reduce her laboratory space – the lifeblood of a chemistry professor – which would severely limit her ability to perform research in her field.

The acclaimed chemistry professor and the proposed class are represented by a Sanford Heisler Sharp team led by the firm’s Washington, D.C-based Chairman David Sanford; Washington, DC partner Kate Mueting, co-chair of the firm’s national Title VII practice; and New York partner Andrew Melzer, co-chair of its wage and hour practice. Merle Joy Turchik of Turchik Law Firm, PC in Tucson is co-counsel in the matter.

“Despite Dr. Miranda’s strong record of research, service to the University, and contributions to the scientific community, the University has undercompensated and underpromoted her for years,” said Melzer. “The lawsuit seeks to correct these ongoing wrongs, both for Dr. Miranda and for other female professors like her.”

According to the complaint, public salary information shows the disparities in Professor Miranda’s salary have ranged from $9,000 to $36,000 per year from 2016 to 2018 as compared to other male professors with equivalent or lesser experience and accomplishments and without a similar record of service to the University. These circumstances are not an anomaly; the complaint alleges that other female science professors at the University have been similarly underpaid as a direct result of discriminatory policies and practices implemented by leaders in the University and the College of Science.

The Complaint also alleges that the University stacks the deck against Dr. Miranda and her female peers from the outset of their careers at the institution. They are denied equal access to institutional resources, such as research assistants and professional mentors, and frequently lose out on promotions on the basis of their gender. The ranks of full Professor in the College of Science are predominantly and disproportionately comprised of men, with female professors concentrated at the lower ranks. For example, in Dr. Miranda’s Department, while approximately half (50%) of the Associate Professors are female, women represent only one out of every eight (12.5%) full Professors.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the University knowingly fails to address or correct its discriminatory practices and perpetuates those practices by retaliating against those, like Dr. Miranda, who come forward with complaints.

“When Dr. Miranda complained about the gender bias and mistreatment, the University not only failed to remedy the discrimination, but it also retaliated against her by reducing her laboratory space and preventing her from teaching a course that she had created,” said Mueting. “Such gratuitous retribution is unlawful and inexcusable.”

Today’s filing characterizes the University of Arizona as engaging in “a widespread pattern of pay discrimination” adversely affecting women in the College of Science. It also asserts that salary decisions by the Dean of the College of Science are made in a “black box” and “completely opaque.” The complaint alleges that the lack of consistent standards and transparency has routinely and systematically disfavored female science faculty members. Similar patterns exist in promotions – in which discriminatory biases are baked into the review process and the Dean and Provost both have the power to deny promotions at will, even in disregard of a faculty vote.

The Complaint asserts that Plaintiffs will seek certification of a class and collective action on behalf of all female professors in the College of Science. Ultimately, Plaintiff and the class seek a declaration that the University’s practices are unlawful – along with monetary, equitable, and injunctive relief to make class members whole and prevent further violations. The class will seek up to $20 million in damages at trial.

Today’s filing comes just 10 months after a $2 million Collective Action was filed against the Regents by Sanford Heisler Sharp on behalf of long-serving University of Arizona Dean Patricia MacCorquodale and similarly-situated female deans – a matter that  remains in litigation in the same U.S. District Court in Tucson.