Freyd v. University of Oregon

headshot photo of Professor Jennifer Freyd wearing a blue shirt sitting in front of a window

Jennifer J. Freyd

has been a Professor in the University of Oregon’s Psychology Department for more than 30 years and is a national leader in the field of trauma psychology. She is the most senior staff member of University of Oregon’s Psychology Department based on years in rank. Her salary, however, is substantially less than that of several of her less-senior male colleagues.

Specifically, her remuneration is approximately $18,000 less than that of her male peer closest in years in rank; more junior male colleagues have even higher salaries. For years, Professor Freyd has been asking for corrective action to be taken regarding the gendered pay disparity in University of Oregon’s Psychology Department.

In 2016, the University of Oregon’s Psychology Department commissioned two studies: a self-study and an external study. Both studies uncovered gender equity problems with salaries at the full professor level. The self-study showed that the annual average difference between male and female full professors in psychology is about $25,000, meaning that over a period of 20 years, women faculty might receive nearly a half million dollars less in salary than their male counterparts. Both reports suggested that the disparity emerged largely as a result of “retention raises” awarded to faculty who pursued outside offers. Retention raises are salary increases offered to professors by their employers as an incentive to remain with their current university rather than accepting a better-paid job at a new university.

While these studies encouraged the University to allocate general salary raises, Professor Freyd was given only the same raise as her other colleagues. The University claimed that she was already paid more than most of the professors in the College of Arts and Sciences, and that the existing discrepancy between her salary and that of her higher-paid male colleagues was because, unlike Professor Freyd, they had sought retention raises.

Professor Freyd subsequently filed her case against the University in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, claiming sex discrimination under The Equal Pay Act, Title VII, Title IX, and Oregon’s state sex discrimination statutes. She argued, amongst other things, that paying retention raises has a disparate impact on women. Additionally, she contended that retention raises obtained by men who seek outside offers is not a “factor other than sex” under the Equal Pay Act because such raises amplify existing gender bias in the availability of outside offers and do not reflect an acceptable business reason in light of the University’s purposes. The defendants responded by filing for summary judgment, which Judge McShane granted. Judge McShane found that evidence indicated that the work performed by Professor Freyd’s male colleagues — who held the same position at the same rank — was significantly different from her own work, meaning that there was not “equal work” requiring equal pay. Judge McShane further found that the Department of Psychology was too small to reliably show that the University’s remuneration practices, including retention raises, result in a disparate impact on women and that, even if they do, the need to retain professors with outside offers is a sufficient defense to sex discrimination.

On March 15, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Professor Freyd, reversing the lower court’s decision in part and allowing her case to move forward to trial. The opinion affirms that retention raises resulting in lower salaries for women may violate the law, even if the discriminatory outcome was unintentional. On July 16, 2021, the University of Oregon agreed to pay Professor Freyd a $350,000 settlement for damages and attorney fees and $100,000 to the Center for Institutional Courage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education, and data-driven action which Freyd founded in 2020. Professor Freyd, now retired, looks forward to continuing her work through the Center.

Case Adopted September 2019