Female members of Virginia State University’s faculty and staff have filed suit against the university and its governing board alleging gender-based pay disparities, sexual harassment and favoritism, and retaliation when they complained.
The separate suits were filed in Richmond Circuit Court by Deborah Goodwyn, associate professor of languages and literature; Zoe Spencer, associate professor of sociology and social work; Sandra Evans, director of the first-year experience program; and Bridget Wilson, associate director of student health services.
Evans and Wilson both allege they were victims of unwanted sexual advances and harassment by Dr. Michael Shackleford, who left VSU on Dec. 31 after serving as vice president for student affairs and then as a professor. Shackleford is included in lists of male colleagues earning higher salaries in the suits by Goodwyn and Spencer.
Shackleford, who could not be reached for comment, is now associate vice president for enrollment management at Norfolk State University.
In June 2014, Shackleford moved from the vice president position at VSU to an appointment of associate professor in the education department, earning a salary of $119,738, or $31,687 more than Goodwyn earned that year, according to the suit. He was one of 12 males she identifies as earning significantly more than she is paid.
Goodwyn, who has worked at VSU since 1996, was chair of her department from 2007-13, earning $85,487 annually. Her male predecessor in that position earned $26,500 more than she was paid, according to the suit.
Additionally, Goodwyn contends that after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 she was changed from a 12-month to 9-month contract, and her pay reduced from $88,051 to $66,039.
Spencer’s suit states that she currently earns $70,040 and identifies six male faculty members, including four who are white, as earning more despite holding an equal or lower job title or less experience. The salary discrepancies range from about $6,000 to nearly $50,000 per year.
Spencer, an employee since 2008 who chaired a gender-equity task force in 2012, states that she has faced retaliation for speaking out about the issue and the task force’s recommendations were rejected by the administration.
Evans, who has worked for VSU since 2002 in teaching and administrative positions, said that after she complained about Shackleford in 2011 she was moved from her position as head of the Academic Success Center to the First-Year Experience Program.
She states she was ostracized by her supervisors and excluded from meetings crucial to her job.
According to her suit, she is paid $61,267 annually, while the male executive director of global and special initiatives is paid $114,330.
Wilson’s suit charges she was the victim of unwanted sexual advances and harassment by Shackleford that went unaddressed by her supervisors. Wilson, initially hired as a registered nurse in 2001, contends another co-worker with less experience and fewer qualifications was promoted over her as the result of “sexual favoritism.”
According to attorney Colleen M. Quinn, Wilson’s “experience further demonstrates the culture of sex discrimination at VSU, and the pattern and practice of retaliation against anyone who tries to speak out against it.”
Quinn, who is representing all four women, said the cases are interrelated but she expects they will be tried separately, although she plans to file a motion to consolidate for purposes of discovery.
VSU issued a statement about the case through spokeswoman Gwen Williams Dandridge. “At VSU, we are committed to providing a fair working environment for all of our employees. As your inquiry relates to specific personnel matters and pending lawsuits, we are not at liberty to further comment,” she said by email.
The university has undergone several top leadership changes during the years covered by the suits. The suits name former President Keith T. Miller and interim President Pamela V. Hammond. Makola M. Abdullah has been VSU president since Feb. 1.