Boston Symphony Pushes Back Against Allegations Of Sex-Based Pay Discrimination

The 10/5/2018 edition of the Boston Globe published an article by Zoë Madonna that reports the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has decided to play hard ball and push back against principal flutist, Elizabeth Rowe and her lawsuit alleging sex-based pay discrimination.

You’ll find a detailed breakdown of Rowe’s complaint in an article from 7/13/2018, so if you aren’t already familiar with the allegations, that’s a good place to begin.

Breaking Down The Elizabeth Rowe Complaint

According to Madonna’s article, the BSO filed a response to the complaint arguing the disparity is the result of unequal duties and responsibilities.

In its court filing, dated Aug. 31, the BSO argued that Rowe and Ferrillo’s work are not comparable, stating that “the flute and the oboe are not comparable instruments, nor are they treated as such by most major orchestras in the United States.” It added that “each instrument has its own pay scale at leading orchestras around the country, including the BSO.”

“As with all orchestras in the United States, different instruments invariably command different salaries,” the BSO’s filing states. “Each instrument in an orchestra also requires different skills and effort to play at the highest level. Setting compensation for each musician, particularly principals, is a nuanced process involving many factors. Gender, however, is not and has never been one of those factors at the BSO.”

Among all the points in Rowe’s complaint, the BSO seems to be focusing on the one that’s most defensible, specifically, the actual dollar amount of overscale.

What’s missing in the known elements of the BSO’s response is recognition of what may be one of Rowe’s strongest complaints: utilizing contracts guaranteeing males a fixed percentage above base salary while females are only offered fixed dollar amounts.

Here’s the exact language from Rowe’s complaint:

  1. The BSO also discriminated against Ms. Rowe by the nature of her personal contract, as it provides certain males performing comparable work a fixed percentage contract ensuring these males get automatic increases whenever the base rate is increased. No female is on an automatic increase contract with respect to the orchestral base rate.
  1. The BSO discriminated against Ms. Rowe by paying her an above scale dollar amount which she is required to renegotiate to get pay increases, while certain males enjoy being on automatic pay increases.

According to Rowe, she brought this discrepancy to the BSO’s attention. Nonetheless, the organization decided against adjust her individual agreement to include percentage based overscale nor did they convert any of the male musician individual agreements from percentage based to fixed dollar overscale.

This will likely be one of the more difficult aspects for the BSO to refute in a jury trial, which they’ve formally requested.

Another highlight from Madonna’s article is the BSO’s request that Rowe pay the BSO’s costs and attorneys’ fees.

That certainly doesn’t help nudge the disagreement toward an amicable resolution and while the BSO has requested the court dismiss Rowe’s complaint, a decision has yet to be rendered.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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