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Virginia Tech Fundraisers Can Pursue Discrimination Claims

Female fundraisers at Virginia Tech may pursue their Equal Pay Act and Title VII discrimination claims against VT, says a Roanoke U.S. District Court, in light of their proffer of male comparators to support allegations of pay inequity, and evidence that a senior male fundraiser told one plaintiff she was not worth as much as a man.

Virginia Tech argues that the overwhelming, uncontroverted material facts establish that Virginia Tech used only gender-neutral factors in determining plaintiffs’ salaries, and that any difference between plaintiffs’ salaries and their comparators can be explained by objective metrics, including: fund-raising experience, sales and marketing experience, graduate degrees, work experience in higher education, number of employees the fundraiser may supervise, salary survey data and whether the fundraiser was an internal hire. Virginia Tech also places great emphasis on the fact that plaintiffs actually had iiihigheriii salaries than some male employees, whom VT asserts are proper comparators.

However, plaintiffs assert evidence indicating that VT’s salary decisions were not completely objective, and that some degree of subjectivity informed the salary determinations. Plaintiffs have proffered other comparators, several male fundraisers who occupied similar positions at VT, who were in fact paid more than plaintiffs.

Because plaintiff has established a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act, the court may not grant summary judgment for VT if a reasonable jury could find that the pay differential was, at least in part, motivated by a non-gender-neutral standard. While VT has proffered evidence indicating it made its pay determination without regard to gender, plaintiff’s evidence that 1) several male comparators earned higher salaries than plaintiffs, and 2) that VT made these salary determinations based in some small part on subjective criteria would allow a reasonable jury to infer that VT’s actions were illegal.

Summary judgment is improper.

Plaintiffs also have established a prima facie case of gender discrimination under Title VII, but they must show that VT’s proffered reasons for compensation differences were merely pretextual.

Plaintiffs present evidence that Robert Bailey, senior director of regional major gifts, allegedly told plaintiff that as a woman, and not the head of her household, she was not worth the same as the man who held the position at the time. In the same conversation, Bailey also allegedly told plaintiff that hiring a woman can be a liability and waste of space because women could become pregnant and miss work. Bailey also admitted he might have told plaintiff that if she repeated any of these statements, he might “slap her with wet noodle,” a phrase with arguable phallic subtext.

Because a reasonable jury could potentially find Virginia Tech liable for Title VII violations, summary judgment must be denied.

The court also denies defendant summary judgment on plaintiff’s retaliation claim, which asserts she was unnecessarily reprimanded by changing her agreed performance criteria without notice, requiring her to meet objectively impossible benchmarks; denied her important training opportunities and insisted she provide copies of business trip receipts when VT lost the originals.

Summary judgment for employer denied.

Kennedy v. VPI & State University (Turk, J.) No. 7:08cv00579, Feb. 7, 2011; USDC at Roanoke, Va. VLW 011-3-088, 13 pp.

VLW 011-3-088

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