UI prof wage lawsuit McDonagh

University of Illinois Professor Deana McDonagh

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URBANA — Nearly a year after an industrial design professor sued the University of Illinois for gender-based wage discrimination, the UI has agreed to give Deana McDonagh $70,000 in back pay and increase her salary by more than 10 percent.

In her lawsuit, McDonagh said she made between $12,000 and $56,000 less than the male colleagues in her program and alleged that she was retaliated against for making complaints.

“The university offered, and the court has now entered a judgment in my favor on the gender discrimination and retaliation claims which I filed last year,” McDonagh said in a statement. “The judgment raises my salary significantly, provides me with back pay and ensures that I am no longer the university’s lowest-paid tenured full professor of industrial design.”

UI professor files lawsuit claiming gender-based wage discrimination

Her salary will increase from $102,382 to $115,000, and her colleagues make between $114,788 and $159,400, according to the UI’s database of employee salaries.

The university’s offer was made earlier this month in the form of an “offer of judgment,” which was accepted last week. U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce then entered a “judgment in favor of (McDonagh) and against (the University of Illinois Board of Trustees).”

“An offer of judgment is a device that litigants can use to help resolve a claim, but it does not imply an admission of discrimination,” UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. “The judgment allowed the university to resolve a case involving a current faculty member, thus avoiding the time and expense of a court case.”

In her lawsuit, McDonagh alleged that after she made a complaint in 2014, 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 she said she 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,” McDonagh received some raises, but her salary remained below the others’.

And after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, McDonagh alleged that “just three weeks later, defendant issued plaintiff her first ever mediocre faculty evaluation.”

While the EEOC did not make a judgment on her case, it gave her notice in May 2018 of her right to sue.

She used her right last July, suing the University of Illinois Board of Trustees for lost wages and benefits as well as a raise to give her commensurate pay with her male counterparts.

She was represented by Chicago-based attorney Kate Sedey.

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 said she was happy to move on from the lawsuit.

“While I wish that I had not had to file a lawsuit to rectify the university’s discriminatory pay practices, I am satisfied with this outcome and happy to close this chapter so that I can continue to focus on the aspects of my work which I value most — my research and my students,” McDonagh said.