New Mexico State Still on the Hook for Pay Disparity

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — A federal judge refused to grant summary judgment to New Mexico State University, which the Department of Justice accuses of paying a female track coach substantially less than her male counterparts.

The United States sued NMSU in 2016 for paying assistant track and field coach Meaghan Harkins $4,000 to $6,000 less than it paid similarly situated male coaches: a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The university hired Harkins in 2009 at a salary of $23,998.

It had hired a male assistant track and field coach in 2007 at $29,500 and raised it to $30,090 in 2008, and hired another assistant coach, also male, at $28,000 in 2007.

New Mexico State sought summary judgment and dismissal, claiming that Harkins’ job description and experience differed substantially from her male colleagues.

It cited testimony that “due to NCAA rules Ms. Harkins was hired as an assistant coach to the cross country teams only, while Mr. Fister and Mr. Harkins were able to coach the track and field team in addition to cross country,” Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker wrote in his Tuesday opinion and order.

Parker continued: “However, the United States argues that Ms. Harkins’ duties and responsibilities were similar to, and at least as demanding as, those of Mr. Harkins and Mr. Fister. The United States has presented evidence that the alleged NCAA limitations were not enforced in practice and that NMSU expected Ms. Harkins to coach and recruit for both cross country and track and field, was aware that she was doing so, and approved of her actions.”

The university disputed the assertion that Harkins had five years’ experience when she came to NMSU — three years at Cohoes High School, 6 months at the College of Saint Rose, and 17 months at Brown University. It attempted to “attempt to reduce her experience because she held other positions concurrent with some of her coaching,” Parker wrote in a lengthy footnote.

“They refer to Ms. Harkins as a ‘volunteer coach’ at Cohoes because she was also a teacher, and they credit her with only one and a half years of experience despite their admission that she was paid to coach during her entire three year employment at Cohoes. Similarly, they do not count any of her experience at the College of Saint Rose because she was both an NCAA compliance officer and an assistant coach.”

But Parker found that however Harkins’ experience was calculated for hiring purposes, the university could provide no reasonable explanation as to how the salaries for Harkins and the male coaches were actually determined.

“Most of the individuals officially responsible for setting Ms. Harkins’ salary deny any involvement or have no recollection of the process,” the judge wrote.

He found the evidence “sufficient to create genuine issues of material fact such that a reasonable juror could conclude that defendants’ explanations are pretextual.”

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