Court Case: Violand v. George Washington University

Case adopted 05/05


Case History

Laura Violand, Director of Medical Center Advancement at George Washington University (GWU) School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., sued GWU for pay inequity in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Law. Violand, who holds a doctorate of education from GWU, has been employed by the university in many capacities since 1978. Since 1988, she has worked in GWU Medical Center’s advancement and alumni relations office.

In December 1997, Violand began a position as assistant director of medical development with a grade level 17 salary, which had a range of $32,886 to $55,916. At that time, a male colleague, the director of major gifts at the medical center who was hired in 1995, maintained a grade level 24 salary, which had a range of $52,200 to $88,740. Violand alleges that during her employment as assistant director of medical development, she was performing equal work with the director of major gifts in cultivating, soliciting and closing major and outright gifts. She claims that her work at GWU required equal skill, effort and responsibility as the work performed by her male colleague and that their work was performed under similar working conditions.

Violand further maintains that her performance in fact exceeded that of her male comparator’s. For example, she claims that for the period from June 2000 to December 2000, Violand’s production, which included the development of six major gifts for GWU, totaled approximately $1,610,105. During this same period, she states that her male colleague’s development production included only one major gift totaling roughly $175,013. Violand reports that despite the similarities in duties and working conditions as her male comparator, as well as her outstanding job performance, she made $42,000 less than this comparator. She filed an internal grievance with the university’s Office of Equal Employment Activities, which concluded that she was indeed performing fundraising duties outside her classification. Despite this finding, the office stated that there was insufficient evidence to support her claim of pay inequity.

Violand filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court in August 2001, alleging pay inequity under the D.C. Human Rights Law. In March 2003, a jury found that the university violated the law and awarded her $280,955 in back pay damages plus interest. In July 2004, the court denied GWU’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, new trial, and/or remittitur and granted in part Violand’s bill of costs and motion for attorney’s fees, awarding her $93,652 in attorney’s fees and $3,434.31 in costs. GWU subsequently appealed the court’s decision. The university argues that the trial court erred in determining that Violand had established a prima facie case of pay inequity. Violand concurrently appealed the lower court’s denial, in part, of her motion for attorney’s fees and costs. A date for oral arguments has not yet been set.

On September 20, 2007, Violand prevailed against George Washington University’s appeal when the appeals court judge upheld her $280,955 jury award for back pay damages.

Key Case Issues

Pay inequity in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Law.