Elizabeth Rowe, the star principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is suing the BSO under the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Law.
Rowe’s complaint, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court on Monday, one day after the law went into effect, alleges that since she was hired in 2004, the BSO “has discriminated against Rowe on the basis of gender by paying her an amount less than other comparable males.”
Specifically, the suit compares Rowe’s salary with that of principal oboist John Ferrillo, a fellow woodwind principal, stating that in 2017, Rowe was paid “about three-quarters” of what Ferrillo was paid for “comparable work.” BSO tax filings for the year ending Aug. 31, 2016, list Ferrillo’s base compensation as about $280,000. Rowe’s attorney, Elizabeth A. Rogers, said Rowe was paid $70,000 less than Ferrillo as of 2017.
Rowe, who won a highly competitive audition to earn her coveted post at the BSO, is seeking more than $200,000 in unpaid wages.
In her lawsuit, she compares her position to that of Ferrillo, stating, “Both the principal oboe and principal flute are leaders of their woodwind sections, they are seated adjacent to each other, they each play with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and are both leaders of the orchestra in similarly demanding artistic roles.”
At the same time, according to the complaint, “since joining the BSO she has been selected by the BSO and by visiting conductors as a special soloist more than any other principal player.” The lawsuit states that she has made 27 solo appearances and has been featured in the BSO’s marketing and social-media representation.
The suit also states that Rowe has been paid less than four additional “comparable principal chairs” at the orchestra, all of whom are male: the principal viola, trumpet, timpani, and horn players.
Rowe’s lawsuit, which was first reported by the Boston Herald, is one of the first to be filed under the new law, which was designed to ensure equal pay for “comparable work.” Governor Charlie Baker signed it in 2016, but it did not go into effect until this week. Rowe says that over the years, she has repeatedly asked for her salary to be adjusted to be equal to that of Ferrillo.
According to Rogers, Rowe’s attorney, “She loves her job. She wants to resolve this amicably. She regrets that litigation was necessary and hoped she could have resolved it internally.”
Rogers says Rowe met with management at the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 14, and again in March in an attempt to resolve the matter.
Asked for comment, a BSO spokeswoman responded by e-mail, “we haven’t been served, so we have no comment on possible or pending litigation.”
Through her attorney, the flutist declined to comment.
Before assuming his post as principal oboe with the BSO in 2001, Ferrillo served as principal oboe of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Prior to her BSO appointment, Rowe had held titled positions with the orchestras of Fort Wayne, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
Reached by phone in Tanglewood, Ferrillo provided a portion of a formal statement he has made that will be provided to the BSO: “I have been asked to do a very specific task — to appraise the value of the relative work, worth, and abilities of Elizabeth Rowe,” he stated. “I consider Elizabeth to be my peer and equal, at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.”
The suit asserts that the BSO discriminated by using past salary histories, themselves subject to gender bias; by structuring contracts offered to certain male employees differently than those offered to any female employees; and by using “salary criteria based on suppressing the pay of those playing instruments traditionally played by women.”Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.