A longtime University of Nebraska-Lincoln law professor alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Chancellor Ronnie Green retaliated against her after she asked about the university’s efforts to address a gender pay disparity.
Josephine Potuto, the university's faculty athletics representative, said despite her status as an award-winning and nationally recognized sports law expert, she has not been immune to a systemic devaluing of work of women.
“For decades, (UNL) has paid female professors substantially less than their male counterparts,” reads the complaint. “Professor Potuto is no exception to this unlawful employment practice.”
Even as the longest continually serving professor in the College of Law — she joined the faculty in 1974 — and faculty representative to the NCAA, Potuto makes substantially less than two male colleagues.
According to publicly available salary information, Potuto’s annual earnings of $229,460 is about $44,000 less than that of Robert Denicola, who has been on the faculty since 1976, and about $27,000 less than Martin Gardner, who came to UNL in 1977.
The gender pay gap, where women on average are paid less than men for similar work, has been documented in higher education in Nebraska.
In 2015, the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education published a report showing the gender pay gap was evident across most college and university campuses in the state, according to available data.
At UNL, the Coordinating Commission found the average salary for male full-time faculty in 2014 was $97,371, up from $76,294 a decade earlier, while female full-time faculty were making an average salary of $81,088 in 2014, up from $62,678.
The data reflects salary by rank only and does not consider tenure nor time a faculty member has been employed by UNL, however.
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UNL has long convened the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women to address issues on campus, including gender equity issues, including employee pay and benefits.
Potuto alleges in her complaint that Green and Donde Plowman, the former executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, had directed the deans of UNL’s colleges to develop plans on how to address the gender pay disparities.
But when she asked Green for an update on the administration’s plan, as she notes she has on multiple occasions, she said she was notified she would be replaced as faculty athletics representative, a position she has held for more than two decades and for which she has gained national recognition.
Saturday, the athletic department honored Potuto as its 2019 Trailblazer Award recipient for support and contributions to women's sports at NU.
Lincoln attorney Vince Powers, who represents Potuto, said her attorneys had spoken with the university’s general counsel, but the two sides could not reach an agreement, leading to the lawsuit filed this week in Lancaster County District Court.
“We expect the facts to support Professor Potuto’s claims that she’s not being paid the same as a man,” Powers said.
Wednesday, UNL spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said Potuto is still serving as the faculty’s liaison with Husker Athletics, and that no replacement has been named at this time. Fiddelke added other universities regularly rotate faculty into and out of that role.
The university also determined Potuto’s claims to be “unfounded and without merit,” Fiddelke said.
“The university is prepared to defend itself against those claims and is confident that it will ultimately prevail,” she said, adding the university would not discuss active litigation any further.
Powers said Potuto is seeking a jury trial to determine how a professor with an extraordinary record of accomplishment “is not being paid the same as males.”
“Things don’t happen by accident,” Powers added, “but we want the process to work itself out.”
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