UM lecturer lawsuit reveals unequal, low pay for faculty

Laura Sherman, the former head of the harp department at the Frost School of Music, recently settled a lawsuit with the University of Miami on claims that she and other female lecturers are paid substantially less than male colleagues. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Flying Logos

Dr. Laura Sherman, the head of the harpist department at the Frost School of Music, has quietly settled a lawsuit she filed against the University of Miami, arguing that female faculty members were being grossly underpaid compared to their male colleagues.

It is the third lawsuit of its kind to be brought against the University in the past five years.

Prior to her hiring as a full-time lecturer at UM in 2019, Sherman played for national orchestras such as the New York City Ballet and American Symphony Orchestra, spent 15 years on Broadway as the harpist for “Wicked” and toured internationally with Barbra Streisand. She holds four degrees between Queens College/CUNY, the University of Michigan and the Yale School of Music and has taught at two other universities.

In her first year at UM, she was only paid $30,000, according to the Miami New Times. As of 2022, her annual salary was reported to be $44,500. For comparison, Florida’s state legislature brought minimum base salaries to $47,500 in 2020 for full-time K-12 classroom teachers with only a bachelor’s degree.

Sherman’s most recent salary is approximately $22,500 below the national average for instructional staff salaries at private nonprofit institutions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2022-2023 Almanac report. It is also $17,772 below UM’s own female lecturer base salary average of $62,272 according to UM’s 2019 Faculty Salary Analysis report.

This report also revealed a large disparity between male and female lecturers, with males earning over $6,000 more on average at UM and $9,424 more within the Frost Music School. The gender wage gap was consistent across all faculty ranks from instructor to tenured professor with a max differential of $68,000 between male and female non-tenured associate professors.

This disparity became the basis of Sherman’s lawsuit and two other lawsuits recently filed by or on behalf of female staff at the UM.

The first was filed by Sung Hee Joo, an assistant professor of environmental engineering, in 2018, and was settled a year later in 2019. This was followed by a lawsuit filed in support of political science professor Louise Davidson Schmich. The case went to trial in 2022 and was sided in favor of UM.

All three professors are Ivy League-educated and hold a doctorate in their respective fields.

Though factors such as length of time and daily tasks each of these professors performed compared to their male colleagues has not yet been confirmed by The Miami Hurricane, court documents allege that often these factors were the same between male and female professors.

A page from engineering professor Sung Hee Joo's 2018 lawsuit against UM listing allegations of unequal pay based on gender. Source: Courtesy of Miami-Dade Clerk of the Court Public Records
A page from engineering professor Sung Hee Joo's 2018 lawsuit against UM listing allegations of unequal pay based on gender. Source: Courtesy of Miami-Dade Clerk of the Court Public Records

For instance, court documents from Hee Joo’s lawsuit state several allegations that UM had “consistently hired men at considerably higher rates than women” and that the increased pay male assistant professors received “was not based on superior skill, education, or experience, or any other legitimate factor.”

Similar claims were made by Sherman who stated she believed she did just as much work, if not more, than her male counterparts.

The Miami Hurricane is continuing to monitor this story.

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Caroline Val
Caroline Val is a senior from Orlando, Fla. majoring in journalism and with double minors in political science and French. She began writing for the news section of The Hurricane in the fall of her sophomore year and developed its first ever podcast, Catch Up 'Canes, as podcast editor last year. Born in Miami, Caroline is excited to reconnect with the South Florida community through storytelling, interviews, and writing as co-news editor this year. Val is also a freelance contributor for the Miami New Times, an intern with News@theU, and loves trying all the new restaurants in Miami in her spare time!