A professor sued her college for, among other things, willful violation of the Equal Pay Act. The Court of Appeals held that the fact that the professor had complained about discrepancies between her salary and salaries of male professors on many occasions and the college did not rectify the situation was sufficient to show reckless or willful violation of the Equal Pay Act by the college.
Polis was hired as a professor of political science at the Graduate Faculty of the New School in 1964. She was granted tenure in 1966, and promoted to full professor in 1976. During her employment at the New School, she twice served as chair of the political science department. Her primary areas of specialty were human rights and Greek politics. According to evidence Pollis submitted at trial, during a 19-year period, her salary was lower than the salaries of five male teachers who were comparable to her. The Equal Pay Act is violated when an employer pays lower wages to an employee of one gender than to substantially equivalent employees of the opposite gender in similar circumstances. A plaintiff need not prove that the pay disparity was motivated by an intention to discriminate on the basis of gender. The New School contends that there is insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that the New School willfully violated the Equal Pay Act. A defendant’s violation of the Equal Pay Act is willful or reckless if “the employer either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute.” Polis testified that on multiple occasions over several years, she complained to New School decision-makers about discrepancies between her salary and the salaries of male professors. Responses she received indicated an awareness on the part of the administration that her salary level was below that of comparable male teachers. Nonetheless, the school continued to pay Pollis less than comparable male teachers. This evidence—that the New School knew that Pollis was paid less than comparable males, but did not rectify the situation—is sufficient to support the jury’s finding of reckless or willful violation of the Equal Pay Act. Therefore, compensatory damages for the Equal Pay Act violation should have been calculated by reference to the three-year limitations period for willful violations, and the resulting compensatory award should be doubled pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s liquidated damages provision. AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, and REMANDED.
1. What do you think accounted for the difference in Polis’s salary?
2. If you were the department chair responsible for such things, how would you have avoided this situation?
3. Why do you think the school did not rectify the situation even after the salary differences became clear?