Illinois State University says a female business professor who filed a lawsuit alleging pay discrimination is making less than her peers for justifiable reasons—none of them having to do with her gender.
In a response to a federal lawsuit, ISU denies that it violated the Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act in setting Meredith Downes’ salary. ISU says its actions related to Downes were taken for “legitimate, nondiscriminatory, and nonretaliatory reasons.”
“Any difference in pay between (Downes) and employees of the opposite sex is the result of a merit-based system that is not based on an employee’s sex,” wrote Brian Smith, a Champaign-based attorney who is representing ISU’s Board of Trustees in the lawsuit.
Specifically, ISU says Downes’ peers in the Department of Management and Quantitative (MQM) Methods performed better in their annual performance evaluations, which help determine pay. Downes was rated “Raise Beyond Standard” in her evaluations through 2018, ISU said. Other faculty in MQM were rated “Exceeds Raise Beyond Standard,” which results in larger percentage raises, ISU said. Downes never appealed her annual evaluation ratings, which she had the right to do, according to ISU’s response.
ISU also claims that market forces “have led to higher salaries for some employees,” including several female employees within MQM who earn more than Downes.
In its response filed Tuesday, ISU also denies that the MQM department chair ever threatened to retaliate against Downes for raising concerns about her pay. ISU also denied the chair ever acknowledged to Downes that MQM had not compensated female faculty comparably to similarly situated male faculty.
Downes has worked at ISU since 1997. She received tenure in 2002. Downes’ base salary was $120,100 for the 2019 fiscal year, with $3,800 in additional compensation, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s salary database.
Downes filed her lawsuit Dec. 20.
This is not the first time a female professor has sued ISU over pay equity. Three College of Business professors filed suit against ISU in 1995 after reportedly noticing that new recruits were being hired at higher salaries than they themselves were earning. ISU denied there was a pattern or practice of discrimination and the case moved through the courts for years. Both sides reached a settlement in 2002.
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