University of Denver Sturm College of Law. (Photo: Cooopersmith via Wikimedia Commons)

Three women law professors at the University of Denver have joined a pay discrimination lawsuit filed last year by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a colleague, alleging that the law school pays women faculty substantially less than men in the same jobs.

Nancy Ehrenreich, Kris McDaniel-Miccio and Catherine Smith on June 16 intervened in the EEOC suit centered on the case of longtime professor Lucy Marsh. That suit has garnered significant attention within the legal academy.

The four women professors claim that the law school pays men significantly more, and that their attempts to gain pay parity went nowhere with former law dean Martin Katz. The school has denied in court papers that any such pay disparity exists, and said pay is based on performance.

“Despite their laudable performance in [teaching, scholarship and public service], plaintiff-intervenors were and continue to be paid less than the mean annual salary for male full law professors,” reads the complaint from the three new plaintiffs, filed June 16 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Charlotte Sweeny, the attorney representing the women professors, did not respond to requests for comment Monday, nor did a university spokeswoman.

The EEOC sued the University of Denver in September 2016, after Marsh contacted the agency to look into what she believed was a widespread gender pay gap in the law school. Marsh filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2013 after learning from Katz that she was the lowest-paid full-time member of the faculty, despite having worked at the school since 1976. In 2012, Katz revealed that women of the faculty on average earned nearly $16,000 less than their male colleagues.

The EEOC concluded that in 2015 the average salary for female full-time law professors at Denver was $139,940, while men earned an average $159,721—a difference of nearly $20,000 and a “statistically significant amount,” according to the initial suit. No female law professors earned salaries that were greater than the average among men, the EEOC found.

It identified nine female law professors who were “subject to a sex-based pay disparity,” including Marsh, Ehrenreich, McDaniel-Miccio and Smith, according to their compliant.

The EEOC concluded that the school had violated the Equal Pay Act and the parties sought mediation, but those talks broke down. Attorneys representing women law professors said the school owed them as much as $1.2 million in back wages. But the university said at the time that an independent consultant concluded that faculty pay is based on current rank, performance evaluations, administrative roles and age when a faculty member’s current rank was attained. Any links between pay and gender were too weak to draw conclusions, the consultant found.

With no resolution in sight, the EEOC sued. Marsh joined the suit as a name plaintiff in January, now followed by three of her female colleagues. Much of the new complaint is dedicated to cataloging the achievements of the additional plaintiffs in an apparent bid to refute any assertion that they are paid less because of substandard performance.

Ehrenreich has taught at the Denver law school since 1989, yet the new complaint alleges that several male professors hired after her now earn upward of $40,000 more than she does.

McDaniel-Miccio joined the law faculty in 2002, and was told by Katz in 2012 that her pay was “on target” based on a formula weighing time since graduation and teaching experience, according to the new complaint. Yet the EEOC included her among the underpaid faculty it identified in 2015.

The law school hired Smith in 2004, and she was named associate dean of institutional diversity and inclusiveness in 2010. Smith learned in 2012 that her associate dean stipend was $5,000 less than the one paid to the male associate dean of scholarship, the complaint states. But Katz said he was authorized only to offer a $7,500 one-time payment to Smith, which was less than half the total pay discrepancy, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs are seeking back pay and benefits, punitive damages, and front pay in the form of prospective salary increases.