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Former Honors College dean sues Board of Regents in federal court

Courtesy Patricia MacCorquodale

Portrait of Former UA Honors Dean Patricia MacCorquodale, who recently filed a complaint against the Arizona Board of Regents, alleging gender pay discrepancies at the UA.

Former University of Arizona Honors College Dean Patricia MacCorquodale filed a claim in U.S. District Court Monday for a $2 million collective action lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents, alleging widespread gender pay discrepancies at the UA.

The lawsuit, brought under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), “alleges that ABOR dramatically underpaid Dr. MacCorquodale during her tenure as Honors College dean relative to male deans at the university and to her male successors at the Honors College,” according to the press release. 

One of MacCorquodale’s attorneys, James Richardson, explained that the suit was brought under the EPA as a collective action because it “allows you to file a lawsuit on behalf of yourself and other individuals who are similarly situated.”

That means that other female UA deans who may hold the same sentiment as MacCorquodale can join and become party to the lawsuit.

MacCorquodale, now a professor of gender and women’s studies, began working at the UA in 1978. Her position as Honors College dean ended in 2016 when she stepped down.

According to Richardson, MacCorquodale was forced from her position at the Honors College. “She left as a direct result of retaliation by the university,” he said.

David Sanford, head of the team representing MacCorquodale, echoed that sentiment in a press release. “Not only did the university drastically underpay Dean MacCorquodale, it added insult to injury by terminating her deanship in 2016, in retaliation for her ongoing advocacy for pay equal to that of male deans on the UA campus.”

Elliott Cheu was appointed as interim Honors College dean when MacCorquodale’s employment was terminated. According to the press release, his salary was over $100,000 higher than MacCorquodale’s salary in her final year. Terry Hunt, her permanent successor, is now paid $70,000 more annually, despite having considerably less experience than Dr. MacCorquodale.

Additionally, the suit claims that in the last three years of MacCorquodale’s term as Honors Dean, she was paid $153,000 in 2014 and 2015 and $162,750 in 2016. During that same time period, male deans’ pay averaged over $300,000 in all three years.

The complaint calls out the UA and senior vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost Andrew C. Comrie “as perpetuating ‘a culture that marginalizes, demeans and undervalues women.’”

The suit, alleging a broader pattern of gender discrimination, points out that the Dean’s Council, led by Comrie, “is primarily composed of men” and cites the inclusion of only three female deans during the 2017-2018 academic year.

It also singles out Comrie for alleged comments made in his capacity as provost. The suit details an alleged incident between Comrie and an unidentified female dean. Comrie allegedly “inappropriately criticized her appearance, stating she should wear skirts more often.”

In the same meeting, Comrie allegedly told the female dean that another female dean “had a Hillary Clinton complex.”

On Jan. 22, Comrie stepped down from his position as provost, a move that had been planned for some time according to UA Spokesman Chris Sigurdson. “This is something that had been talked about since around the New Year,” he said.

The two announcements are not tied together said Sigurdson. “His stepping down and the lawsuit announcement are not related.”

Incidents of mistreatment of female deans include “inappropriate and sexist comments directed toward female deans, increased scrutiny of their performance and generally excluding them from participation in leadership of the university,” according to the press release.

Also, the press release said gender discrimination is systematic due to the over-representation of men in all deanships on campus.

“The university has long been governed by a ‘good old boys’ club’ that keeps women out of academic leadership positions; for those few women who do make it into positions like deanships, that same club ensures that those women are paid less and made to feel devalued and unwanted,” said Richardson.

Richardson, who attended the UA and had MacCorquodale as a professor, portrays his client as caught up in a broken system. MacCorquodale “is the victim of unfair policy practices and decisions made” on behalf of the UA, he said.

The lawsuit calls for all gender discrimination claims to be addressed under the EPA with MacCorquodale as class representative, and asks the court to declare the actions made by the regents unlawful.

“The Complaint asserts that Dr. MacCorquodale’s pay concerns are not unique and that the striking salary differences between male and female deans throughout University of Arizona are common and are gender-based,” read the press release. “The collective action seeks to represent all female deans at the university, all of whom the Complaint maintains have suffered from unequal pay for equivalent work compared to male deans.”

A jury trial has been requested.

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