Two Adams State professors file discrimination suit against university
By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
TWO professors at Adams State are suing the university for wage discrimination based on their gender, according to 12th Judicial District Court files. Professors Laura Bruneau and Cheri Meder, both of whom have Ph.D.s, claim their salaries are less than their male counterpart in Counselor Education. They also allege the university has failed to address the wage disparity and they were subsequently harassed by administrators when they raised the issue internally.
The complaint, filed July 28, 2022, alleges the two professors have been paid significantly less than their male peer, Mark Manzanares. Former President Dr. Cheryl Lovell and current Vice President of Academic Affairs Kent Buchanan are also named in the complaint.
“ASU has failed to address this sex-based pay inequity, fostered a hostile work environment, and engaged in retaliation,” the complaint reads.
The complaint states Bruneau and Meder brought concerns about the sex-based pay disparity in Feb. 2022; Manzanares and Buchanan created a sex-based, hostile work environment for the two professors; and that ASU has retaliated against Meder.
In March of this year, the two professors filed two, separate dual complaints with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation.
The professors, in the July complaint, made a demand for a jury trial on all issues.
Sara Meaglin, an attorney for the professors, said that the case is moving forward with discovery after a brief case management hearing Monday. The timeline for both sides to submit discovery is by the end of March 2023.
The complaint says that while Manzanares was department chair he indicated to Bruneau and Meder that he was “paid significantly more than them despite the fact that they were all tenured full professors in the same department,” and that Manzanares claimed he couldn’t increase Bruneau and Meder’s base salaries, but gave them the option to do more work for stipends.
The complaint alleges Manzanares, while chair, “moved $12,000 from each person in the department’s stipend pay into the base salary to increase ‘earning power.’”
“When Dr. Meder became the Department Chair in December 2020, she gained access to some pay data for her department. At that time, she learned about the gross disparity in base salary based on sex.”
According to the court filing, in the academic year 2020-2021, Manzanares’ salary was $93,096, while Bruneau’s was $67,224 and Meder’s was $57,504. Bruneau’s and Meder’s salaries did not include the $12,000 stipend.
In academic year 2021-2022, Manzanares’ salary was $95,892, Bruneau’s was $77,664, and Meder’s was $73,968. Their salaries included the stipend during this year, according to the case file
Bruneau and Meder complained about the unequal pay based on sex to then-president Lovell through a letter on Feb. 10.
The filings say the letter provided specifics on the difference in their base salaries compared to Manzanares and specifically referenced the Colorado Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.
Lovell responded by saying she was “in the process of identifying an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive pay audit” so that ASU could respond “fully and appropriately to [Plaintiff’s] concerns.”
The complaint states at the time of filing the audit is not complete and ASU has “failed to provide a timeline for its completion.” It says ASU took $5,000 from the Counselor Education Department to fund the audit.
Following the Feb. 10 letter, Lovell questioned the “chaos” in the Counselor Education Department under Meder’s leadership, “yet Dr. Lovell never questioned Dr. Meder’s leadership or criticized her performance before her protected activity.”
“Dr. Manzanares has belittled and stigmatized women in the Counselor Education Department,” the complaint reads.
The complaint states that Manzanares referred to Bruneau as a “snake” and “man-hater” while “instructing colleagues not to trust her.” He also referred to her as “Lilith,” after Lilith Sternin, a feminist icon from the television shows Cheers and Frasier.
He labeled Bruneau as a “troublemaker” because she had once joked about her base salary being decreased by $11.
Manzanares also allegedly made comments about men who took paternity leave, “indicating that only women in the department should take leave to care for infants and children.”
He is also said to have micromanaged Meder’s communication with others, while taking credit for her work while she was his associate department chair.
He would also obstruct meetings that Meder led, “many of which were attended by Dr. Lovell.”
Buchanan also is alleged to treat “female leaders at ASU in a demeaning manner.”
In August 2021, the complaint says that Buchanan told Lovell that Meder was doing fine and the “only thing that would prevent Dr. Meder from doing the job or being successful was her ‘family and children.’”
It also states that on September 13, 2021, Meder spoke out at an Academic Council meeting, and Buchanan responded by “offering her a cookie.”
Buchanan has apparently avoided meeting and speaking to Meder.
While Lovell was said to have limited her contact and interactions with Meder following the Feb. 10 letter, through the remainder of her time as president.
Lovell allegedly blocked Meder from receiving a Presidential Teaching Award during the 2022 spring semester after a student had recommended her. “Dr. Lovell told the evaluation committee that a School Director who only teaches one course should not be considered.” According to the file, Meder taught more than one course and was not the school director for the year she was nominated. Meder did not receive the award.
Meder’s attendance at trustee meetings was also highlighted. “In June 2022, the Acting President hostilely questioned Dr. Meder’s attendance at public Board of Trustee meetings. Other School Directors, like Dr. Matt Nehring, have attended these meetings and have not been similarly questioned.”
Bruneau is currently the program chair while Meder is the school director for the Counselor Education Department – ASU’s largest department.
Bruneau has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from Kent State University, which she received in 2007. Bruneau was an instructor at Kent State from 2004-2006; she joined ASU as an assistant professor in 2007.
Meder has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from Regent University, which she received in 2013. ASU hired Meder in 2010 as an adjunct professor, while she was working on her Ph.D., then hired her as a visiting assistant professor in 2012.
Manzanares has a Ph.D. in Education and Human Resources Studies from Colorado State University, which he received in 2004. Manzanares was hired by ASU in 1989, but did not work in the counselor education department until 1996. The complaint states that after 2007, he worked outside the department until 2012. In 2015, he was hired as the department chair.
The counselor education department voted to remove him in Dec. 2020. According to the complaint, Manzanares was voted out due to “his lack of transparency with the budget; poor spending decisions, including the creation of The Roast, a cafe he created and ran through the Counselor Education department; bullying those in the department who did not agree with him; and his demeaning attitude towards administrative staff.”
Adams State University could not provide comment. The Colorado Attorney General’s office also could not provide comment.