Most of us have heard of “Equal pay for equal work,” but what about “Equal pay for comparable work”?
Massachusetts has a new labor law that requires employees to be paid equally for “comparable work” regardless of differences such as race or gender. It was passed in 2016, but did not go into effect until July of this year so employers could have a chance to rectify their compensation disparities before the law went into effect. According to a new wage and hour lawsuit, the Boston Symphony Orchestra failed to rectify its alleged disparities before the deadline.
Elizabeth Rowe, the orchestra’s principal flutist, alleges she is paid 75% less than John Ferrillo, the principal oboist, who Rowe claims is her closest comparable colleague.
While a difference of 25% may not seem significant, Rowe alleges it means she is paid $70,000 a year less than Ferrillo. Despite the pay difference, Rowe and Ferrillo play next to each other and both have positions of leadership in the orchestra, as well as artistic roles that are equally demanding. Rowe, who joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2004 after having played in Baltimore, Washington, and Indiana, is one of the orchestra’s most prominent performers. She has been a featured soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra 27 times, which is more times than any other member of the orchestra, according to the lawsuit. Her performances have also gained critical acclaim.
What’s more, Rowe has been featured in marketing campaigns and fundraising tours and events, including a trip to Japan in 2017, in which she was the only featured soloist aside from Jessica Zhou, the principal harpist who also happens to be the only other female principal player in the orchestra. While determining pay is often a complicated process with many factors that go into it, it does seem odd that someone who gets featured in solos and actively promoted as the face of the Boston Symphony Orchestra should not be among its most highly-compensated members.
Despite the complexities of determining compensation for musicians, and the fact that things like solo performances and instrument ownership are often taken into account in negotiations, there is no formal standard compensation policy in most orchestras, which leaves them vulnerable to bias and problematic outcomes, such as the one alleged by Rowe in her pay discrimination lawsuit.
Although the lawsuit specifically pointed to Ferrillo because his work is most closely comparable to Rowe’s, it also alleges that the orchestra’s principal viola, French horn, trumpet, and timpani players (all of whom are men) are all paid more than Rowe. The lawsuit further alleges that Ferrillo and other male players automatically received pay raises every time the base pay went up, while Rowe allegedly did not.
Rowe says this is not her first attempt at getting the orchestra to raise her pay. She says she has made several attempts over the past four years, but not only did the Boston Symphony Orchestra deny her pay increases, it also allegedly retaliated when she tried to make the issue publicly known, including allegedly preventing her from appearing in a National Geographic documentary to discuss gender pay disparities.
So instead of discussing her alleged compensation inequity on television, Rowe will be discussing it in court, assuming the case does not get dismissed or settled out of court.
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