University files motion to dismiss 3 of 4 counts

By Reis Thebault and Emily Tate, Editors-at-Large

Miami University has responded to the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by two female finance professors in the Farmer School of Business, denying all allegations and moving to dismiss several of the counts brought against it.

In the most recent development, the professors’ attorney and the university’s attorney have agreed to a meeting May 27.

Robert Croskery, who is representing plaintiffs Kelly Brunarski and Yvette Harman in the lawsuit, said he and Miami’s counsel will confer with the court at the end of the month before setting a trial date and beginning the discovery process. The discovery process includes obtaining written documents, conducting interviews and identifying witnesses related to the case.

In the lawsuit filed Feb. 15 in the Southern District Court of Ohio, Brunarski and Harman accused the university of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and violation of the Equal Pay Act. The university denies each of these allegations.

In Miami’s response, the university’s lawyer, Christina L. Corl of Plunkett Cooney law firm, wrote that any discrepancy in pay is unrelated to sex.

“Any alleged pay disparity is justified by a seniority system, a merit system, a pay system based on quantity or quality of output or is based on factors other than sex,” Corl wrote in response.

Croskery, however, says that nothing other than sex could explain it.

“There isn’t anything that jumps off the page as to why the plaintiffs are paid less, other than the fact that they are female,” he said in an April interview.

Brunarski and Harman’s initial complaint compared them to two males in the finance department. Each professor was hired and tenured around the same time, but, the complaint noted, the male professors had published fewer articles in academic journals. The male professors, however, were paid significantly more. Both have salaries of nearly $200,000 a year, an average of 9 percent more than Brunarski and Harman.

Croskery said that they used publications as a comparator because it is a widely agreed upon benchmark for judging the success of an academic.

“I think publications are important for university professors,” he said. “Publications reflect upon the school. When you have significant citations and significant publications, it tends to give more respect to an institution of higher learning and thus justifies higher pay.”

Beyond the pay discrepancies, Dan Herron, a professor of business legal studies in the finance department, noticed a pervasive culture of gender discrimination by his male colleagues. Herron, who also chaired the promotion and tenure committee last year, went so far as to report incidents of discrimination to his superiors and, ultimately, the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity.

“It’s an atmosphere that denigrates and does not take women seriously,” Herron said. “So, however that manifests itself, it all shows that women are not valued.”

Herron said this discriminatory atmosphere has existed in the department for all of his 24 years teaching at Miami.

“It has been, and to me it still remains, a good old boys’ club.”

From the beginning, Miami University has denied any such allegations. The recent legal response is only the latest example.

“Defendant Miami University exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any alleged sex harassment, which it specifically denies ever occurred,” Corl wrote. “Any actions taken by defendant Miami University with respect to plaintiffs were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.”

Brunarski and Harman are seeking compensation in excess of $250,000 and demanding that a jury hear their case in a trial.

“In this case, most of the allegations of significance center around an equal pay claim, specifically that the professors who are male are being paid more than the females that are doing essentially the same job,” Croskery said. “The Equal Pay Act is an attempt to carry out a bedrock principle of the Constitution, which is simply that people should be treated fairly and that their treatment should not be based on their gender or their race, but rather their intrinsic worth.”