MU unethical, says ally in FSB
By Megan Zahneis, News Editor
Despite an ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit against Miami University, one male professor of finance believes the third floor of the Farmer School still constitutes a toxic work environment for his female colleagues.
Kelly Brunarski and Yvette Harman, both associate professors of finance who have been at Miami since 1999 and 2000, respectively, accused the university of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and violation of the Equal Pay Act in a lawsuit filed Feb. 15 in the Southern District Court of Ohio.
Both Brunarski and Harman declined The Student’s request for comment.
The only allegation remaining is the Equal Pay Act violation claim in federal court.
Essentially the pay discrimination claim states that although their research and their abilities as professors and their seniority and tenure are equal or better than male counterparts, Brunarski and Harman have been paid significantly less.
“Miami University has, in fact, increased their pay somewhat, but has not completely adjusted their back pay for differences that have persisted for several years,” said attorney Robert Croskery, who is representing Brunarski and Harman. “Nor have they completely brought their pay up to what we believe it ought to be.”
The university’s lawyer, Christina Corl of Plunkett and Cooney law firm, said Miami moved to dismiss each claim — hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation — in federal court in March.
Corl said that Harman and Brunarski voluntarily dismissed those charges in federal court, then filed in state court in May. Miami moved to dismiss the charges in state court and the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed those in June.
That lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase, in which Miami and the plaintiffs exchange written documents, conduct depositions and identify witnesses. The discovery process, Corl said, will end in mid-January 2017.
Brunarski and Harman’s colleague, professor of business legal studies Dan Herron, said the culture of gender bias in his department has been prevalent throughout his 25 years at Miami. Herron expressed his concern to his superiors in Farmer and then to Miami’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) and was met, he said, with little response.
“The first thing that Miami should have done is say, ‘We recognize there is a gender issue.’ Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, because the women in the finance department, all of them, believe there’s an issue,” Herron said. “[The university should have said,] ‘We need to deal with this. We need to prove that we’re committed to diversity.’ And instead, what does Miami do? They deny it, they hide, they won’t give information, they won’t be transparent, and they hope that it goes away.
“That is not an ethical organization.”
Herron added that he expects Harman and Brunarski to refile other claims at a later date, saying that the non-pay-related charges were dropped merely for procedural reasons. Herron also said that the university made an offer to settle, which Harman and Brunarski rejected.
In the meantime, Herron said, the culture of the finance department has remained the same, with the exception of Provost Phyllis Callahan appointing Rebecca Luzadis interim department chair.
“I have essentially taken myself out of the department interactions. I really don’t want to have anything to do with it, because it is a toxic environment,” Herron said. “[Removing myself] is my way of keeping my blood pressure down. It’s self-preservation. I do what my job says, I do my scholarship, my teaching, my service, but I do not engage with this department very much.”
Croskery said that his aim is simple.
“The main goal [of this lawsuit] is to eliminate the idea that an old boys’ network or old boys’ club should somehow prevent someone from advancement if they’re meritorious and worthy of advancement,” Croskery said. “The end goal is [that] it doesn’t make any difference if you’re a gentleman or a lady that your pay and your treatment at Miami University as a professor is exactly the same.”
And if he’s correct, Croskery said, the case could turn out to be a “seminal” one.
“I know that Miami University does give lip service to having such equal treatment and to having a general atmosphere where gender is not taken into account,” Croskery said. “But if the allegations of the complaint are true, then Miami University has failed in practice to carry out the lofty goals that are expressed in its policies.”