After a three-year legal battle, UW-Madison English professor Kelly Cherry won a federal sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university.
Cherry taught creative writing at UW from 1977 to 1999 and said she was paid less than her male counterparts, despite the fact she had published more works.
The university denied her claims and said its pay practices would have been defended had the suit gone to trial.
The attorney for UW, John Dowling, said Cherry’s salary had nothing to do with gender.
“We have a system of merit salary,” Dowling said. “Professors are judged by peers and given salary based on their accomplishments.”
With help from lawyer Houston Parrish, Cherry and the UW Board of Regents reached an out-of-court settlement of $127,500. Although she originally sought $153,099, Parrish said Cherry was satisfied with the settlement.
“We were extremely pleased,” Parrish said. “Essentially, we won a series of appeals.”
This type of case is not unusual for UW, Parrish said. “UW looks at issues of gender equity all the time,” he said.
The initial suit sought the difference in salary between herself and what male professors of equal position earned. The suit stated that unlike other UW professors, Cherry was not paid in accordance with her work.
Cherry is a relatively well-known local author. Her published poetry and short stories have been widely acclaimed.
The regents initially offered Cherry $90,000, but Dowling said all parties were content to settle for a higher amount.
University officials prefer settling financial matters outside of the courtroom, he said.
“Our firm has on numerous occasions represented former employees at UW-Madison in cases like this,” he said. “Only one has gone to trial, and we won.”
Dowling said the English department is breathing a sigh of relief since the settlement.
“It was not an enjoyable experience for them,” he said. “They’re glad that it’s over.”