Monday, November 30, 2020

Princeton Loses Discrimination Case: Losing $1 Million (2012-2020)


    Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey, founded in 1746. Princeton’s reputation is known to be a prestigious school with outstanding academic programs offering education at its finest and one of the best in the nation taught by extraordinary professors. Princeton was approached by the labor department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) due to the allegations of the school discriminating against its female professors and paying them significantly less than their male colleagues Princeton’s response to the allegation regarding compensation discrimination was said to be unfounded and therefore denied such wrongdoing. The OFCCP refused to let go of the issue and decided to launch an investigation back in 2012 against the Ivy League school. After nearly 8 years the OFCCP had sufficient evidence that proved there was compensation discrimination. The evidence showed that the school broke laws and then the school had decided to reach a deal calling it an “early resolution conciliation” instead of it going to trial which could have resulted in major fines and a larger payout on the behalf of the school.

    Throughout this case study, we are going to apply certain ethical theories Including Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory. These theories will provide a clear explanation of whether or not the case is ethical or unethical according to the ideals of the individual theories.  According to the law, Princeton went against the theory of Individualism and found that the Princeton case was unethical. Utilitarianism found the Princeton case was unethical as well because it did not maximize the happiness of anyone involved. Kantians would argue that the case is unethical because Princeton is simply using its female professors as a means to get their students the education they need and not treating them the way they should be treated. Virtue theorists would argue the case is unethical because out of all the cardinal virtues the school did not exhibit any of them. The school had no courage in admitting they were wrong, and they were injustice in their action and lacked prudence, temperance, and honesty. Based on all of these arguments I think the school should review its action and consider making some improvements in how they treat and see their female professors.

Princeton University Faculty Room

 Ethics Case Controversy

    Due to allegations that Princeton University is discriminating against its female employees an investigation launched in 2012 to determine if the allegations of “discrimination in salary and gender pay gap” at Princeton University were indeed true. This investigation was to determine if women at Princeton were actually receiving less pay compared to their male colleagues. The Department of Labor started this investigation as part of a “routine compliance procedure” and found that there were harsh disparities in the salary of women who were considered full-time professors compared to their male colleagues, which, can be traced to two years prior (NYTimes). The labor department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) spent a majority of their time focusing on investigating the school during the years of 2012-2014. The OFCP came to the conclusion that that 106 female professors have been at a disadvantage to their male colleagues by being disproportionately targeted in pay disparities and concluded that Princeton violated the “Equal Employment Opportunity” law. This law requires “Government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment and can’t discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex…” and it also states that under certain circumstances, it prohibits adverse actions against employees for asking or discussing anything about their pay or pay of co-workers (U.S Department). 

    Despite what the OFCCP found Princeton had their own statements. The university denied the allegations and said that the report was made “based on a flawed statistical model ” that didn’t take into account the individual departments within the school, but The Department of Labor said it used a “compensation model that grouped and assessed all Full Professors across the University for years in current jobs, other years at Princeton, department, full-time status, highest degree earned, and prior experience in years.”(Early Resolution). A spokesperson, Ben Chang, said that this was wrong because it grouped professors together regardless of department and didn’t resemble how the university actually hires, evaluates, and compensates its faculty. He then said that when the University performed their own statistical analyses for the time that was evaluated, they found that there were no meaningful pay disparities based on gender. However, it’s not easy to see how Princeton feels as though they’ve done nothing wrong when their demographics show that only 27% of full professors are females leaving the other 73% to be males. The lack of female professors and lack of female employees, in general, can be seen as questionable and quite worrisome to any future women who may consider working for the school. To defend their stance in the case spokesperson Chang said that they believed the University was in fact in full compliance with both the letter and spirit of the law. They said the pay differences could be explained by differences between departments, job performance, and the job market for top-tier professors. He also stated that “an English professor cannot perform the same duties that of a Physics professor” to defend his statement that the pay difference could be explained due to departments. It took several years before Princeton decided in order to avoid a legal dispute, which could be rather lengthy and costly, they decided to agree to an “early resolution conciliation” agreement and to enhance future compliance proactively. An early resolution conciliation is used in order to prevent having to through with trials. If Princeton agrees to all the terms and conditions and follows through with them there will be no need for a trial.   Along with the early resolution conciliation agreement the OFCCP determined that Princeton University would end up having to pay $925,000 dollars in back pay to the 106 female professors, and $250,000 in future salary adjustments, equaling a total of about $1.2 million. Money that will definitely be taking a toll on the school.


    Princeton University is a major ivy league school that many people know of and they depend greatly on their stakeholders. Immediately when the name is brought up people automatically think of how amazing the school is and how intelligent the people are that must attend. Anyone considering applying to go to Princeton needs to be able to trust the school, they want to know if the professors and staff are available to help them with anything they may need. The same thing goes for anyone who wishes to become a professor at the school. Professors are most definitely super important to the school’s success because without them there would be no school. People who wish to work for this school need to know that Princeton is going to do anything it can to support its staff. Especially if people who are currently working for the school find out that the school does not think too highly of them then that puts pressure on the professors and may cause them some stress and disappointment in the school's priorities. Princeton also has over $300 million in sponsored research funding which comes from federal agencies, companies, foundations, and other private entities that are super important to support the school. These fundings allow professors and students to do any research they need without having to spend their own money. If these companies decided to no longer donate their money to the school, it surely would impact the students and the professors and most definitely the school because they would no longer be able to hold the vast majority of research programs that they have. Essentially everyone involved with Princeton is at risk for having their life negatively impacted by the choices made by the school.

His v.s. Hers Pay Disparity


    An individualist would see that this case has not thoroughly followed the laws set by the Department of Labor by not paying their woman professors equally to the male professors. Milton Friedman argued that the “responsibility of the business was to maximize profit within the land of the law and that spending money on resources, employees, and donations to causes are wrong because it is essentially stealing from the company” (Salazar 17). Losing any kind of profit from a business would be bad because that is in technicality their hard-earned money. Any money they make that could be given in extra to the employees could be seen as wasted. However, the school trying to justify their actions by saying different departments should be paid differently based on workload is very unprofessional and negligent in comparison to the high standards the school seems to have, but Individualism states that a business has “no direct responsibility to any interest-groups often called stakeholders” (Salazar 18). But is this unethical though?

    Despite the school looking out for their best interests and not having the responsibility of stakeholders, Princeton University would have failed the theory of Individualism because they broke the law “which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin” (Department of Labor). Based on this law Princeton is liable for committing a crime of discrimination and therefore would be found unethical even if they were trying to do what they thought was best for their school. “Laws, therefore, restrict what a business is ethically allowed to do to profit. Since laws can be changed, these laws simply represent that the business will abide by commonly agreed-upon standards.” (Salazar 18). Even if this law was slightly changed it is still seen as a standard of what Princeton should be doing in order to have a successful business.


    A Utilitarian tries to look for the “happiness of all conscious beings” and for this reason, this case would be viewed as unethical because of Princeton’s lack of awareness of its stakeholders. Happiness is the only thing of value and it counts as pleasure and freedom from pain (Salazar 20). When trying to look at a case from the Utilitarian perspective one must try to think of every possible scenario and compare them to one another. All the stakeholders should be accounted for and their happiness should be measured accordingly. 

    Princeton University had numerous amounts of stakeholders starting with the number one stakeholder, themselves. Despite Princeton believing, they were doing what is best for their school they were hurting themselves. Once a rumor spreads that they discriminate against women and they do not equally pay women the same as men their reputation as a prestigious school with extraordinary professors is no longer valid if they don't pay all professors the same. People will start to rethink their opinions on one of the most impressive ivy league schools and possibly consider a different school upon knowledge of Princeton's actions. This could potentially drop the enrollment rate for this school and cause them to lose out on profits. Along with hurting themselves, they are affecting all their staff negatively by having this dilemma brought to light. Staff now must deal with stress, especially the female professors and staff, knowing that the school is trying to argue that they have done nothing wrong. There is no happiness to be found in any of the staff members because they all must deal with the school’s wrongdoings. This is causing women to be stressed and feel discriminated against, they may also be dealing with hostility and criticism in the workplace, and while Princeton believes they are doing the right thing they are also hurting themselves because they now have to endure a long investigation that wouldn’t have to happen if they just did things according to the laws.  Students also get negatively impacted because of this as well because they are attending a school that is known for discriminating against women and that must take a toll on them as well. Let alone that their professors may not be doing the quality work they usually do because of all the tension that has been created making the educations suffer and their money goes to waste. Woman students especially will have no faith in the institution and in their future careers when they find out Princeton isn’t paying females equally to men. Princeton has far more issues than a measly broken law now, they have lost the trust of students, faculty, and the public. If they considered this all in the first place, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they are in now.


Spokesmen From Princeton
    Kantian ethics is very different from Utilitarian ethics in that it doesn’t take consequences into consideration rather it looks for what “people claim is wrong to manipulate, exploit, or use people to their own advantage” (Salazar 21). In order to follow Kantianism, one must have good intentions in what they are doing, and Princeton certainly does not have good intentions for not paying women equal to men. An action made is rational and permissible if it meets certain standards that demonstrate respect for the autonomy and rationality of all people affected (Salazar 21). Unfortunately, there was no respect shown for the woman professors of Princeton University when the school decided to pay them significantly less than men. If one was to take a step back and look deep enough into the case it could be seen that Princeton was simply only using the women as a means to get the reputation, they wanted and didn’t treat them as people. Paying female employees less than males can be seen as offensive and can also be seen as the school thinking that more highly of its male professors compared to any of the female employees. In order for the school’s action to be seen as morally right, it must pass the formula of humanity which states “that it is wrong to use people as a ‘mere means’ to get what you want. Treating someone as a mere means is using them or exploiting them in any way in order to get something you want without regard to that individual's state as a human being. It disregards their rationality and freedom and usually, it involves an attempt to manipulate them” (Salazar 22). The school certainly did not pass the formula of humanity because they did use the women as a mere means to increase their profits or the school’s reputation. The only way that this case could be seen as ethical is if the school was honest about what they were doing and if their motives were in the right place. The school will only gain moral worth if it has a good reason to be withholding money from other employees.
“People trust businesses that have been around for a while, that have shown honesty and respect in dealing with their customers and can cite a long history of good customer reviews and ways that the company has corrected errors or problems when they occur” (Salazar 5). This meaning that if Princeton wants the respect of its employees and students, they should be honest and do what is right because it is right. 

Virtue Theory

    Virtue Theory differs strongly from the previous three ethical theories because the previous three theories analyze individual actions whereas virtue theory analyzes a person’s character (Salazar 23). This theory is taking a look at the five cardinal virtues which are courage, honesty, justice, prudence, and temperance, and decides whether or not the person was virtuous or not, meaning that the case was ethical. However, virtue theorists would say this case is unethical because Princeton did not establish any of these cardinal virtues, rather they did the opposite. The only people who did show these virtues were the women who were involved in the case and were the ones who had the biggest impact on the school during the time of the controversy.

    Princeton established no courage when they decided to claim that the allegations against them weren’t true and that they were unjust in their actions. When they decided to say that they saw no problems in their actions it showed that they had no morality in their actions and that they didn’t have the courage, to be honest, about the pay disparities that the school was involved in. Therefore, they also didn’t establish any justice because they weren’t interested in fixing what they have been accused of doing. However, the woman had a lot of courage and honesty when they came forth to share some of the information about the situation, they were in. They could have gone through so much by doing this, like harassment from fellow employees or turmoil from the school itself, and they still wanted people to know what was going on. The woman also had prudence when the school did not. Prudence is when someone looks out for their future selves and these women were certainly concerned about their pay rates and how that would impact their futures selves if it didn’t get rectified. Princeton didn’t look into the future of the school when this came to light, instead, they denied it and now they have to pay the woman more money than they would have if they just raised their pay and could possibly be facing harsh judgment from other school or community members. Lastly, women had plenty of temperance, or they did just enough in order to get the results they wanted. This meaning in order to achieve their goal of getting a better pay rate they didn’t go out of their way to accuse the school. For example, they didn’t have any instances where the professors decided to go on strike to get their way of equal pay. Women of the university simply expressed their unhappiness with what the school was doing and let authorities take care of the rest. Princeton however didn’t practice temperance because they continually tried to find an excuse for their actions and tried to prove that what they were doing was just and didn’t warrant an investigation or any kind of compromise. Princeton, unfortunately, failed all of the cardinal virtues and because of this would be seen as unethical in their ways of business according to Virtue Theory.

Justified Evaluation

    In my opinion, everything Princeton did was indeed unethical and very unprofessional. When news of them discriminating against their female employees came out, they could have taken alternative routes to solve the dilemma, but instead, they made matters worse. If they indeed claim “their commitment to equity and equal opportunity for all is ongoing” then shouldn’t they have been doing that, to begin with? Furthermore, when questions started being asked about whether or not they do pay their woman less, they just simply said that they saw nothing wrong in what they were doing and tried to use an excuse based on department priority and level of difficulty.

    Personally, I believe all professors are equal and it shouldn’t matter what subject they teach, all subjects have their difficulties. What gives Princeton, or the person in charge, the right to claim that what they’ve done is based on department difficulty and how do they decide who is more important than who? Instead of denying their action why didn’t they simply say they saw the errors of their ways and try to correct it right then and there? It would have made less of an uproar and an investigation would not have gone on for as long as it did. Trying to fix the problem instead of trying to cover it up is easier than having to deal with a bunch of backlashes after tons of people find out that their school has discriminated against based on gender, which happens to be a very touchy topic when it comes to people.

    For a school that seems to have such high standards for their staff and students they certainly did not have those standards for themselves. Kantianism mentions how when rules are made everyone must follow them and the school certainly doesn’t follow this. They should be acting rational and consistent with the rules that the school establishes and shouldn’t expect themselves to be exempt from them. Since the school wasn’t following any rules set, they could potentially have people, students, and employees question their reliability and morality as a school. Even worse, people may have even decided against applying to either work or attend that school as a student or professor or those students and professors would no longer follow any rules set seeing the main authorities weren’t following them either. Their professionality, in this case, is definitely lacking and their claims offer many unanswered questions. Ethically, everything Princeton did was wrong from lying about what they’ve been doing to how they’ve been treating people. 

Timeline of Princeton University Case

Company Action Plan 

    The current issues Princeton University faces is having to pay women back for all the money they’ve lost due to the pay gap, but besides the school giving money back to the employees, Princeton has also come up with some other means of bettering their school and community based on the early resolution conciliation agreement they signed with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. They claim to be taking proactive steps to ensure pay equity that will comply with the current federal laws (True Jersey). From 2021-2025 Princeton University will conduct a salary equity review for a Full Professes using the most recent annual payroll and human Resource Information. They will also compare the salaries of similarly situated professors and if their records are reviewed by the OFCCP and they find pay disparities and Princeton doesn’t have a legitimate reason why there are pay disparities again the school will be required to apply the appropriate measures in order to ensure the right pay. Along with the daily recording of pay, they will also be required to have training available for anyone who is responsible for making compensation decisions for professors and for anyone who was involved in the pay disparities in the first place.

    Along with all the regulations and training Princeton is required to start they are also responsible for paying $925,000 to all women affected by the pay disparities and up their salary by $250,000. This doesn’t take care of the entire problem but will make up for the loss in salary the women have dealt with in the past. Even though they are getting training for people responsible for pay compensation Princeton should consider getting someone in the school who is qualified to do the job correctly and honestly. They could possibly an outside source who doesn’t work for the school directly to avoid any biased opinions about pay. Along with this, women should better represent the school whether they jobs as deans or just get involved in the school’s activities. The school should offer more leadership positions to women of the school so they can be seen as equal to any male employee. Since the school isn’t necessarily trying to maximize its profit there really are no suggestions for that situation. This case was about the school not paying women equally to men so if the school needs a reason why women should be paid equally women holding more leadership positions could potentially be a reason, even though they shouldn’t need a reason to rightfully pay women the same as men.

Karoline Klaus


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