When three University of Tennessee women's athletic department employees jointly filed a discrimination complaint in February 2010, they each compared their respective salaries to an employee from the men's athletics department whose primary responsibilities centered around football.
In its defense of the claims, the men's athletic department argued that when it pertains to a top-revenue, athlete-loaded sport like football, which "pays the bills" for the rest of the school's varsity sports, it's hard to come up with a fair comparison.
UT's Office of Equity and Diversity agreed, ruling 10 months later that no gender discrimination occurred. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek signed off on the OED's decision and, upon an appeal from the three women's employees, so did UT President Joe DePietro, who effectively closed the case with his succinct, two-sentence denial on April 29.
The three employees behind the complaint — Associate Athletics Director for Women's Sports Medicine Jenny Moshak, Assistant Athletics Director for Women's Strength and Conditioning Heather Mason and Associate Director for Women's Strength and Conditioning Collin Schlosser — continue to work at UT and are "valued members" of the athletic department, according to UT's response.
University officials declined to comment on the complaint. Reached Tuesday, Moshak also declined to comment.
Radio station WNML first reported the discrimination suit last week.
In her respective complaint, Moshak, a UT employee since 1989, drew parallels to her male counterpart, Director of Men's Sports Medicine Jason McVeigh. At that time, Moshak earned a base salary of $87,500 at a pay grade of 46, but received a raise to $90,993 after the first phase of converging UT's once entirely separate men's and women's departments. McVeigh, at a pay grade of 45, made a base salary of $89,048 at the time of the complaint. He now makes $95,000 annually.
In its response, UT noted that Moshak wound up making more than McVeigh in 2009 thanks to the $26,000 she earned from working in women's basketball coach Pat Summitt's summer basketball camps along with other bonuses. Moshak made $116,664.36 in total compensation in 2009 while McVeigh made $98,058.60.
UT cited a number of reasons, including the number of athletes McVeigh was directly responsible for (195 to 14), budget responsibilities ($657,500 to $535,000) and importance to athletics to conclude that there was no direct comparison between the two.
"With no disrespect being intended to Ms. Moshak, Mr. McVeigh's position is more important to athletics because of his football-related responsibilities," UT wrote.
Though the OED found no evidence of gender discrimination, it did find inconsistencies in UT Human Resource's valuations of McVeigh's and Moshak's respective Position Description Questionnaires and corresponding salaries. Cheek ultimately disagreed, writing that the Hay System — the process UT uses to determine pay grades and salaries — does not factor in market value.
"To maintain a premier football program, it is appropriate to meet or exceed the salaries that prospective employees are earning at other institutions and the salaries that university employees could earn at other universities," Cheek wrote.
In her complaint, Mason compares her position to the numerous men who have held the title of "men's director of strength and conditioning" over the past three years. Johnny Long ($115,000), Mark Smith (190,000), Aaron Ausmus ($100,000) and Bennie Wylie ($225,000) all made more than Mason, who earned $80,000 annually at the time of the complaint.
UT used the same line of reasoning to differentiate the job responsibilities of Mason, a UT employee since 2003, and her male counterpart. The OED, again, could not find any grounds for gender discrimination.
The OED dismissed Schlosser's complaint because he could not show "an employee of the opposite sex earning more compensation for a job that is substantially equal."
In their initial complaints, Moshak, Mason and Schlosser all wrote that they had been respectively informed that "complexities of football" played into why they made less money than their assumed counterparts.
In its response to their complaint, UT Human Resources summarized the perceived "complexities" of a sport that generated $42.9 million in revenue for an athletic department with a budget of close to $100 million.
"At this level of competition football is the engine that drives the athletics program and provides the majority of income," HR wrote. "To ensure this income stream it is necessary to provide a competitive football program which will continue to attract fans, donations, and television revenue."