A federal judge has ruled in favor of Dr. Clare Mundell, a clinical psychologist formerly of Northern Light Acadia Hospital who sued the Bangor hospital after discovering she was being paid about half the hourly wage of her male counterparts.
U.S. District Judge Lance E. Walker ruled that Acadia Hospital violated the Maine Equal Pay Act by paying Mundell less than her male colleagues for comparable work, and that Acadia now owes her triple damages for lost wages, according to a news release issued Wednesday by law firm Johnson, Webbert & Garvan LLP.
“The evil redressed by (the Equal Pay Act) is decidedly the impact of unequal pay for comparable work, regardless of the employer’s motivation,” Walker wrote in his decision.
Mundell joined Acadia Hospital, an acute care and mental health facility, as a pool psychologist in November 2017. She became part of a team with four others who were responsible for a range of services, including psychological testing, consultation, individual and group psychotherapy and crisis intervention. She had prior experience in both public and psychiatric hospitals and operated private practices in two different states. Her hourly rate was set at $50.
Acadia Hospital was a part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems when Mundell was first hired. That organization was renamed Northern Light Health in 2018, not long after it merged with Mercy Health System, which operates Mercy Hospital in Portland, among other health care facilities.
On her 2019 performance evaluation, Mundell received a rating of 4.97 on a scale of 1-5. Her supervisor described her as “a dependable and reliable colleague who presents with a high level of professionalism,” according to the complaint.
In October 2019, Mundell learned during a conversation with a male counterpart, identified in the complaint only by his initials, that he earned $90 per hour and that another male psychologist earned $95 per hour. She later learned that the two other female psychologists made $50 and $48.82 per hour, respectively.
The next month, Mundell met with Acadia’s chief medical officer, John Campbell, to express concerns about the pay discrepancies. He told her, according to the complaint, that the human resources department “was evaluating salaries in all hospital departments and that she should wait for the outcome of that evaluation.”
In January 2020, Mundell met with hospital president Scott Oxley, who told her that the evaluation had revealed “pay discrepancies across the hospital.” He then offered her a salaried position, with an equivalent hourly rate of $57 per hour, and later offered her a bonus of $5,000 to address some back pay. Mundell was still upset, primarily because, she said, Oxley never acknowledged that the discrepancies were related to sex.
She also learned that her male counterparts would be paid at their higher rate for an additional three months before it would drop back to $57.
In March, Mundell said Oxley increased the bonus offer to $20,000.
Two days later, Mundell resigned, saying she was “saddened to leave her deeply satisfying clinical work, but profoundly disappointed with the sexism she had experienced at Northern Light and upper management’s failure to see the pay discrepancy issue as a gender-based problem.”
This story will be updated.
Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.