Soboleski suing university, PASSHE over alleged gender discrimination, unequal pay

Categories:  News    Sports
Monday, February 5th, 2018 at 10:55 AM

According to court documents obtained by EdinboroNow, Melissa Soboleski, Edinboro University's head volleyball coach since 2005, is suing both the university and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) under claims of gender-related pay disparity and conduct by university officials. 

The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 25 with The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennysylvania, states that "at the start of 2016, [the] plaintiff's (Soboleski's) annual salary was $64,344." It then compares that to the three "Tier-1 [Edinboro University] head coaches, who are all male," possessing salaries of $74,959, $104,705 and $120,872, at that time. The other tier-1 sports at Edinboro are men's basketball, women's basketball and wrestling. Current salaries, according to the lawsuit, stand at $73,251 for Soboleski (13th year), while the head women's basketball coach, Stan Swank (31st year), earns $110,198; the wrestling coach, Tim Flynn (21st year), earns $130,880; and the head men's basketball coach, Pat Cleary (5th year), earns $78,561, according to the case document. The lawsuit also argues that because "Edinboro University contributes over 9 percent of each coach's annual salary towards his or her retirement...male counterparts receive additional contributions to their retirement savings."

Other notable dates described by court documents. 

  • The lawsuit claims Soboleski raised concerns regarding a disparity in pay between her and her male counterparts in January of 2015. These were raised to Edinboro University Athletic Director Bruce Baumgartner, according to the document. 
  • Soboleski then "followed up with Baumgartner regarding the status of her inquiry in April 2015, and was informed that he had not yet reviewed the situation," reads the lawsuit.
  • In January of 2016, court documents state she again raised concerns. 
  • In March of 2016, Baumgartner "convened a committee to examine pay disparity in athletics," according to the document.
  • On April 8, 2016, Soboleski, along with two male coaches of women's athletic teams, filed "a formal Social Equity Complaint with Edinboro University's Director of Social Equity and Title IX Coordinator." This was, according to the complaint, "in light of concerns surrounding Baumgartner's motivations in appointing himself to chair the committee."
  • In fall of 2016, PASSHE conducted its own investigation, "and concluded with findings that [the] plaintiff's gender-based pay disparity complaints had merit."
  • "Substantial raises for plaintiff and other coaches" were recommended, according to the complaint, which were then "approved by the President of Edinboro University (Dr. H. Fred Walker)." According to Pennwatch.pa.gov, Soboleski's salary went from $64,344 in January of 2016, to $66,275 in February of 2017, to $71,275 in May of 2017, to $73,251 in September of 2017, to $75,266 in January of 2018. The complaint refers to these adjustments as "meager" and "paltry."

In a section labeled "facts pertaining to unlawful retaliatory conduct directed toward plaintiff," it is alleged that following the filing on April 8, 2016 of the social equity complaint, "Baumgartner began approaching plaintiff (Soboleski) in a threatening manner with the intent of intimidating her, referring to the social equity complaint as 'very interesting' and 'full of inaccuracies.'"

The lawsuit claims Baumgartner "continued and increased his pattern of retaliation against plaintiff," in issues such as recruitment, passes for home athletic events, and a Aug. 8, 2017 internal complaint against Soboleski "for a purported misuse of funds," allegedly filed by Baumgartner's secretary. According to the complaint, Soboleski "ultimately was cleared of any wrongdoing; nonetheless, her colleagues within the athletic department continue to ostracize her as a result of the accusations."

Counts listed in the lawsuit are: gender discrimination, unequal pay, discrimination, and retaliation in the reporting of the listed issues. 

When contacted, Angela Burrows, assistant vice president for marketing and communications, stated, "The university cannot comment on pending lawsuits or personnel matters." Baumgartner and Ronald Wilson, the latter who is director of social equity and Title IX coordinator, both declined to comment when reached via email. 

Sunshine R. Fellows and The Levicoff Law Firm, who are representing Soboleski in the lawsuit, provided the following statement to EdinboroNow:

"Coach Soboleski has enjoyed tremendous success as Edinboro University’s head volleyball coach. Now in her 12th season, she has led her team to eight NCAA Division II Atlantic Region playoff berths, along with trips to the PSAC Playoffs seven times. She ranks second all-time in career wins. Unfortunately, despite her impressive experience, unwavering dedication and many outstanding professional achievements, Coach Soboleski is paid substantially less than her similarly situated male counterparts for equal work. Coach Soboleski has been attempting to work with University officials to correct gender-based pay disparities within the athletic department for over three years. Regrettably, her concerns have not been adequately addressed, and she is now pursuing resolution of the issue in federal court.

This lawsuit is meaningful not only for Coach Soboleski, but for female coaches across the nation, especially those at universities that receive Title IX funding. A strong judgment could send a much needed message that discrimination driven by sexism will not be tolerated in college athletics. Suing one’s current employer is an understandably daunting task. Fear of reprisal and retaliation quiets many who would otherwise raise legitimate concerns. We applaud Coach Soboleski’s courage and strength in bringing the issue of pay discrimination to light, and are incredibly proud to be representing this remarkable woman."

EdinboroNow can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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