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Courts and Crime

Judge rules in favor of Maine psychologist who received half the pay of her male colleagues

Federal Judge Lance Walker has ruled in favor of a female psychologist, Clare Mundell, who discovered she was earning just over half of what her male colleagues were paid.

Attorney Valerie Wicks, who represented Mundell, says Maine first enacted a law in 1949 requiring employers to provide equal pay to men and women doing comparable work.

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Dr. Clare Mundell

"This decision by Judge Walker is actually the first court decision we have interpreting that law, which, I think, speaks to how rare these cases are, certainly, but also to some of the cultural headwinds that are in place when it comes to talking about how much you make," she says.

Wicks says the case began when a colleague talked with Mundell about Acadia Hospital's plans to reduce what he was being paid for work as a pool psychologist.

"And he said what the new rate would be and Dr. Mundell said, 'Oh, that would be a raise, for me,'" she says.

Wicks says, under Maine law, employees are free to compare notes about pay.

While Mundell was working for $50 an hour, male psychologists were being paid $90 or $95 an hour.

The court decision indicated that Acadia Hospital had discovered the pay equity issues independently and was in the process of standardizing pay. But the hospital and Mundell couldn't agree on a way to deal with past pay differences and Mundell filed suit in federal court.

The hospital urged the court to seek an interpretation of Maine's equal pay statute from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. It also suggested that it might be difficult for the hospital to both meet terms of the state law and other federal statutes.

Judge Walker ruled the state law was clear enough on its face so there was no need for him to seek a state court interpretation. And, the judge found there was no conflict with federal laws. His ruling means Mundell is to receive triple damages.

"Northern Light Health is committed to treating all of its employees, regardless of gender, or any other protected class, fairly and equitably as it works to provide top quality care to the people of Maine, especially during this pandemic. We disagree with the District Court's ruling and intend to appeal," an official of Northern Light Health, Suzanne Spruce, said in an email responding to the ruling.