UI professor files lawsuit claiming gender-based wage discrimination


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CHAMPAIGN — A female professor is suing the University of Illinois for gender-based wage discrimination, as she makes between $12,000 and $56,000 less than the male colleagues in her program.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, industrial design Professor Deana McDonagh alleges that she is paid less because she is a woman and was retaliated against for making complaints.

After one complaint in 2014, she alleges that the then-director of the School of Art & Design responded "by asking her why she needed a pay increase given that Plaintiff does not have a family."

After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, McDonagh alleges that "just three weeks later, Defendant issued Plaintiff her first ever mediocre faculty evaluation."

Along with compensation for legal fees and other damages, McDonagh is seeking lost wages and benefits as well as a raise to give her commensurate pay with her male counterparts.

McDonagh declined to comment Tuesday beyond what was in the lawsuit.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler also declined to comment.

"We will not talk about pending litigation or a personnel matter," Kaler said in an email.

McDonagh joined the UI as an associate professor in 2004, earned tenure and received a doctorate in 2006 and became a full professor in 2014, the first woman in the industrial design program to do so, according to the lawsuit.

She now makes $100,182, less than the three other professors in the program, according to the lawsuit and the UI's database of employee salaries. David Weightman makes $112,938, William Bullock makes $121,082 and Suresh Sethi makes $156,450. Weightman has been a professor at the UI since 2003, Bullock since 2000 and Sethi since 2017, according to their professional profiles online.

They did not respond to emails requesting comment.

"Each tenured Full Professor in the Program is expected to perform precisely the same tasks," the lawsuit says, including spending 40 percent of their time teaching, 40 percent on research and 20 percent "in service to the University community."

"As a result, Plaintiff and her male counterparts' jobs require exactly the same skill, effort, and responsibility and their jobs are performed under identical working conditions," the lawsuit says. "Despite those similarities, Plaintiff has been paid significantly less than her male counterparts since the time she was promoted to Full Professor."

The Equal Pay Act requires that pay be equal for men and women for jobs that "require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But pay differences are allowed if the employer can prove they're based on "seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex."

After becoming a full professor in 2014, McDonagh started complaining to supervisors and administrators about her pay being unequal, according to the lawsuit.

"Plaintiff spoke with many members of Defendant's administration about her concerns," the lawsuit says. "For example, Plaintiff raised complaints with the Director of the School of Art & Design, the Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Academic Policies, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, the Associate Provost for Human Resources, and both the Assistant Director and Director of the University's Office of Diversity and Accessibility."

As a result, she received some raises, but her salary remains below the others'.

Around November 2016, McDonagh alleges that the UI's "Office of Diversity and Accessibility" said it would investigate, but so far, she hasn't heard back.

The director of that office did not respond to a request for comment.

Then, in 2017, McDonagh says she filed two charges of discrimination with the EEOC.

While the EEOC did not make a judgment on her case, it gave her notice in May of her right to sue within 90 days.

McDonagh is represented by Chicago-based attorney Kate Sedey.