A Duke professor filed a lawsuit against the University last Wednesday, alleging that Duke pays her significantly less than her male colleagues and that she faced retaliation for her complaints.
In 2020, Rachel Lance, assistant consulting professor in the department of anesthesiology, was allegedly assigned additional work without an increase in pay by Joseph Mathew, her immediate supervisor and chairman of her department.
After initially raising “multiple internal complaints” to several University offices, Lance also began expressing concerns about a potential pay gap between herself and other male colleagues in her department. In August of 2021, Lance filed an official complaint with the Office of Institutional Equity, followed by a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in October.
Lance says that after the complaints were filed, Mathew and other Duke employees created a “hostile work environment” through retaliatory comments and actions, including repeated attempts to pressure Lance into “dropping” her complaints.
In one such instance, Lance was allegedly told by a professor that her complaints labeled her as a “troublemaker.” The same professor reportedly suggested that pay gaps between men and women may be attributed to differences in productivity levels due to factors such as childrearing, rather than systemic discrimination.
“This is the career toward which I have worked for my entire conscious life, and filing means it’s probably over. But I can’t handle the abuse anymore, I am not my male collaborator’s assistant, and I deserve to be paid equally,” Lance tweeted on Sunday.
Duke declined to comment on ongoing litigation. Mathew referred The Chronicle to Duke Health, which also declined to comment.
In August 2019, Lance was hired on a part-time basis, with a fixed annual salary of $30,000 for 10 hours of work per week. The lawsuit claims that Lance was the first-ever female principal investigator at the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Environmental Physiology at the time.
Lance claims that in or about December 2020, Mathew and other department members assigned additional work to Lance, requiring her to work 20 to 40 hours per week without additional compensation. As Lance began speaking with other professors about pay practices at Duke, she found that she was being paid “a substantially lower rate of pay for hours worked” than male colleagues with similar experience in her department.
At the time of her recruitment, Mathew reportedly told Lance that her title as assistant consulting professor was “the exact equivalent to the faculty title ‘Assistant Professor,’ except with part-time status.” Bruce Derrick and John McManigle, whom Lance referred to as “similarly-experienced male PIs” in the lawsuit, are both assistant professors in the department of anesthesiology.
When Lance began “complaining explicitly” about a potential pay gap in May of 2021, she pointed to her salary of $30,000 for 20 hours of work per week being consistent with a full-time salary of $60,000 per year.
Lance compared her salary to that of Heath Gasier, who was reportedly hired at the same time as Lance for a full-time salary of $100,000 per year. Gasier was appointed as an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology in 2023, but was initially hired as an assistant professor in 2019
Gasier earned his doctoral degree in 2009, and had been an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences from 2015 to 2019.
After Lance met with the OIE in August 2021 about her concerns with gender pay equity, Mathew sent her a job offer letter on behalf of Duke that proposed that she either be “demoted to a staff position or to a position assisting another (male) PI.” The terms of the letter also stripped Lance of her PI positions for the three projects she brought to Duke, which generate approximately $120,000 annually for the University.
After refusing to accept the terms of the letter, Lance continued working the newly required 20 hours per week without a change in her pay, while her faculty contract lapsed without renewal.
Lance filed her first EEOC complaint in October 2021.
Lance alleges that Duke made “multiple and repeated attempts” in the following months to reclassify her faculty position as a staff position. According to the lawsuit, faculty at Duke enjoy a range of employment rights that are not accessible to employees classified as staff, and the two positions have separate Human Resources departments.
During this time, Lance was allegedly deprived of HR assistance, attributed to the uncertainty over whether she was staff or faculty.
At the same time, Mathew reportedly “spread malicious and false information” by claiming that Lance was only able to apply to staff positions at Duke. Lance believes that these comments denied her opportunities to transfer to a faculty position in another department.
The lawsuit also reads that Lance was “regularly subjected to harassing behavior and comments” from Mathew and other department members, including several requests that she “drop” her official complaints.
In one such instance, Richard Moon, professor of anesthesiology and director of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Environmental Physiology, emailed Lance to pressure her to “drop the [OIE] complaint,” writing that it had “poisoned any relationship that might have been possible” with the department. Moon did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.
Lance recorded a June conversation between herself and Moon, sharing it with The Assembly. Moon allegedly agreed that Mathew had been “completely inappropriate” towards her — but he also said that her actions had “labeled [her] as a troublemaker” and attributed allegations of systemic discrimination to differences in productivity.
“If a woman is going to have babies, gets involved, spends more time at home, whatever, it may not be possible for her to be as scientifically productive as the male who has a female at home taking care of that stuff,” he said in the conversation. Lance does not have children.
This also isn’t the first time the anesthesiology department has come under fire for similar concerns. A lawsuit filed in 2018 by Michael Shaughnessy, a former anesthesiologist at Duke, alleged that his career was cut short due to “retaliation and discrimination against his complaints about disability and sex discrimination” in the department. The lawsuit was settled in November 2020.
Editor's Note: This story was updated in October to include information about Gasier prior to his appointment at Duke.
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Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.