Chang v. University of Rhode Island

Decision Date04 April 1985
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 77-0070 S,79-0087 S,83-0044 S and 83-0099 S.
Citation606 F. Supp. 1161
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island






Abedon, Michaelson, Stanzler & Biener, Milton Stanzler, Julius C. Michaelson, Jordan Stanzler and Lynette Labinger, Providence, R.I., for plaintiffs.

Nicholas Trott Long, Gen. Counsel, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, R.I., Adler, Pollock & Sheehan, John F. Bomster, Edward L. Maggiacomo, Richard G. Galli, Michael Kelly, Providence, R.I., for defendants.


SELYA, District Judge.

While equality of opportunity was prominent in the collective minds of the Founding Fathers, it took nearly two centuries for the United States to recognize and act upon the existence of discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, and sex. Congress attempted to move the nation closer to the accomplishment of our national goals by passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Pub.L. No. 88-38, 77 Stat. 56 (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (1982)) (Equal Pay Act) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub.L. No. 88-352, §§ 701-18, 78 Stat. 241 (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17) (1982) (Title VII). These laws were designed to reduce the discrimination which festered in American industry. Yet, Congress proceeded with understandable caution; the initial sweep of the statutes was not all-encompassing. Among those who were excluded from the prophylaxis of the laws were professional employees of educational institutions. It was not until 1972 that this gap was closed with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Pub.L. No. 92-261, 86 Stat. 103 (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17) (1982) (EEOA).

The cases at bar straddle this temporal span. They have their roots in a pattern of academic staffing which long antedated the enactment of the remedial legislation referred to above, but they have bloomed in the fertile soil of Title VII as enriched by the EEOA amendments. They require the court to strike a delicate balance between the rights of faculty members at the University of Rhode Island (URI or the University) and URI's fulfilment of its mission to educate and serve the people of Rhode Island. And, in calibrating this balance, the court must perforce tred in areas which, in simpler times, were deemed to be the sole province of educators and academicians. At bottom, these cases call upon the court to decide whether URI has engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination in derogation of the rights of women faculty at the University.

A. The University

URI is the crown jewel in Rhode Island's coronet of state-supported higher education. Its main campus is situated in Kingston. The University also maintains a satellite campus located adjacent to the state capitol building in Providence (largely devoted to continuing adult education programs) and a unique facility on Narragansett Bay for its oceanography school. As the state's sole land-grant institution, URI operates various agricultural research centers as well as the state cooperative extension program.

As a state institution, the University is subject to the bureaucratic process. Its funding derives substantially from appropriations made by the state legislature (the Rhode Island General Assembly). The overall policies of the University, as well as its general management oversight, devolve from the Board of Governors for Higher Education.1 The Board consists of eleven members, eight of whom are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate; the remaining members serve ex officio. R.I.Gen.Laws §§ 16-59-1, 16-59-2 (1981). The Board is empowered inter alia to establish broad policy necessary for the implementation of goals for higher education in Rhode Island, to formulate budget requests for the institutions of higher education, to appoint presidents of the universities, and to enforce all laws related to higher education. R.I.Gen. Laws §§ 16-59-4(1)-(10) (1981). The Board, however, is statutorily prohibited from operating or administering any subordinate college or university. Id. at § 4(3).2

The day-to-day management of the University is vested in the school's administration. The operational hierarchy at URI is pyramidal in nature, with the president straddling the pinnacle of the obelisk. The president's duty is to ensure that the mission of the University, as defined by the Board, is carried out. During the currency of these events, there have been four chief executives at URI. Werner Baum served from prior to the passage of the EEOA until his resignation in 1973; William Ferrante, who was the vice-president for academic affairs (VPAA) at the time of Baum's resignation, was then designated as acting president and served in that capacity until August 1, 1974; Frank Newman became president at that time and continued in that capacity to August 1, 1983; and Ferrante, who had resumed his service as VPAA during Newman's reign, reemerged as acting president for a brief interval until Edward Eddy took office in 1984.

Historically, the president has been assisted by a number of vice-presidents. Among these plenipotentiaries, the VPAA is of paramount importance to this litigation. The VPAA is in charge of the scholastic programs at URI. His immediate subaltern is the assistant vice-president for academic affairs (AVPAA), whose major responsibilities include oversight of faculty hiring, setting salaries at hire, and allocation of teaching personnel to the various colleges and departments within the University.3

Once overall policy has been formulated, its implementation is largely in the hands of the deans of the respective colleges. Sundry associate and assistant deans work under each of these administrators. The responsibility delegated to these officials varies from college to college, and depends to some extent on the particular dean.

The final level of administration is departmental. The department chair must implement administration policy within the particular academic enclave. This includes on-line budgetary responsibility, allocation of faculty, personnel management, curriculum development, and the like. In addition, the chair has first-strike responsibility for the evaluation of faculty members assigned to the department, and has considerable say in such momentous matters as promotion and tenure. The department chair has a foot in each of two sometimes opposing camps: the chair is both management and labor, both an administrator and a full-time faculty member. While other administrators hold faculty appointments, none are personally involved, in any appreciable way, in the day-to-day grind of teaching and research.

The plaintiffs have sued a melange of defendants; in fact, somewhat different defendants are named in each suit. These include URI, Board-R, Board-HE, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Carlotti, Dr. Richard Weeks (dean of the college of business administration), and Dr. Barbara Tate (dean of the college of nursing). All of the defendants are represented by the same battery of lawyers. For ease in reference, they will be grouped under the rubrics "URI" or "the University," except where the context plainly requires otherwise. No departmental chair has been sued as such.

B. The Plaintiffs

The named plaintiffs in these consolidated actions are or were faculty members at URI at various times from 1972 to the present. There are four separate actions consolidated for trial. Two of these are class actions (which overlap somewhat).

The seminal case (the Chang action) was filed in early 1977 by Lucy Peng-Fei Chang, who was terminated as an instructor in the college of business administration at the end of the 1972 academic year. She sought to represent a class of women who had been, are, or could have been, faculty at URI. A kindred class action (the Seleen action) was brought two years later by four women faculty members at URI. The quartet included Diane Seleen and Greta Cohen, both associate professors of physical education; Sharon Strom, a full professor of history; and Judith Anderson, a full professor in the department of speech communication. They also requested the court to allow them to represent a class of women who were employed at URI, are currently employed, or could have been employed after January, 1976.

In addition to these individuals, the American Association of University Professors-University of Rhode Island Chapter (AAUP) joined in the Chang and Seleen suits. The AAUP was designated as the exclusive bargaining agent for all faculty and professional library staff at URI in 1972, and has continued to act in that capacity. The AAUP negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements, the first of which took effect in 1972; as we will see, these pacts had a substantial impact upon the administrative policies and personnel practices of the University.

In early 1983, almost four years after the Seleen action was commenced, Sandra Kraynek, an assistant professor of nursing, brought suit. She sought only individual relief for alleged violation of the Equal Pay Act. Soon thereafter, Wendy Roworth, an associate professor of art history, filed suit alleging violations of Title VII. She purported to sue both in her individual capacity and as a putative class representative (but, inasmuch as class certification was never sought, her action stands as a personal claim only). All of the plaintiffs share common counsel.

These, then, are the...

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