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USF assistant dean was paid less than peers, lawsuit says

The claim by Fai Howard cites a pay disparity she discovered after she was hired for her post in 2017.
Fai Howard, assistant dean for upper-level initiatives at the University of South Florida, has sued the university in federal court, citing a pay disparity.
Fai Howard, assistant dean for upper-level initiatives at the University of South Florida, has sued the university in federal court, citing a pay disparity. [ University of South Florida ]
Published Mar. 12, 2021|Updated Mar. 12, 2021

A lawsuit filed by an assistant dean at the University of South Florida is alleging pay discrimination based on gender.

Fai Howard was hired to the position of assistant dean for upper-level initiatives in 2017. Her lawsuit says she discovered in 2018 that she was paid significantly less than a male colleague who served as assistant dean for teaching and learning, a position with similar working conditions and requirements for experience.

The lawsuit says Howard brought the issue to the attention of the dean of undergraduate studies that year, but the issue was not resolved. In 2020, she met with the vice president of student success to discuss the issue.

Howard received a one-time performance bonus as a result of the meeting, the lawsuit states. But past and future pay inequity was not addressed, it says, and the university provided no justification for the disparate pay.

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 24 in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Michael Pierro, the attorney representing Howard, said he doesn’t believe the issue of pay inequality is limited to Howard’s case.

“We’ve seen that disparity going on for a long time, but it’s only in recent years the issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves,” he said. “When I represent a client in these matters, it is about just the client, but the hope is that it has a wider impact and that the powers that be in higher education take notice of their pay policies and that women are being treated equally both in terms of pay and other conditions of employment.”

Pierro said Howard values her position at the university and remains open to resolving the issue amicably.

“She had no designs on making this adversarial,” he said. “I think the bigger picture is that I highly doubt this is an isolated incident in higher education. ... We keep seeing it pop up, but we don’t see widespread remedial action.”

University spokesman Adam Freeman said USF does not comment on pending litigation.

In October, USF president Steve Currall announced a task force to examine issues of pay equity. Freeman said the work of the task force is ongoing.

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