BSO flutist settles equal-pay lawsuit with orchestra
Elizabeth Rowe, the principal flutist who sued the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a groundbreaking equal-pay lawsuit last year, has agreed to settle her case with the orchestra, according to documents filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court.
The documents did not make clear the terms of the agreement, stating only that the case was being dismissed “with prejudice and without costs or attorneys’ fees to either party.”
The case, involving a star musician, a world-class orchestra, and a new Massachusetts law, has been closely watched for its statewide and potentially national implications for women who are paid less than their male counterparts.
One of the first women to sue under the state’s new Equal Pay Law last July, Rowe argued that in 2017 she made roughly three-quarters the salary of principal oboist John Ferrillo, a fellow woodwind principal, for “comparable work.”
Tax filings indicate that Ferrillo’s base pay was about $280,000 for the year ending in August 2016. Rowe’s attorney, Elizabeth A. Rodgers, told the Globe last July that Rowe made about $70,000 less than Ferrillo as of 2017.
Rowe, who joined the BSO in 2004, had initially sought some $200,000 in unpaid wages.
In the lawsuit, Rowe contended that the BSO had discriminated against her “on the basis of gender by paying her an amount less than other comparable males.”
“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,” Rowe stated in her lawsuit, which noted her frequent solos and appearances in promotional materials.
In a joint statement Thursday, Rowe and the BSO said the parties had “successfully mediated the case.”
“While the details of the resolution are confidential, all those involved in the process are satisfied with the result,” read the statement.
In a response to Rowe’s complaint, the BSO denied Rowe’s claim of pay discrimination based on gender, arguing that “the flute and the oboe are not comparable instruments, nor are they treated as such by most major orchestras in the United States.”
Attorneys for the BSO further argued that symphonies around the country set different pay scales for the oboe and flute.
“As with all orchestras in the United States, different instruments invariably command different salaries,” the BSO argued. “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.”
Rowe’s suit also claimed she was paid less than other principal musicians at the BSO — trumpet, timpani, viola, and horn — all of whom are male.
In a statement attached to one of Rowe’s filings, oboist Ferrillo described Rowe as “my peer and equal, at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.”
A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that nationally, women in the workforce earned 82 percent of what their male colleagues earned in 2017.
The Massachusetts law seeks to remedy the gender pay gap in part by preventing employers from asking job candidates about their current salaries, which for women may perpetuate pay imbalances. Under the new law, employers also cannot prohibit workers from discussing their salaries.
“These are two tactics that lock women into unequal pay,” said Rodgers, describing the impact of the law generally. “These obstacles to equal pay are despicable, because they preserve and protect the pay advantages men have.”
A number of other states have followed suit since the Massachusetts law first went into effect, said Katie Donovan, a pay-equity consultant who worked on aspects of the Massachusetts law. And in late January, Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, helped introduce federal legislation that would similarly bolster the Equal Pay Act, ending pay secrecy and making it easier for women to challenge alleged pay discrimination.
“The [Massachusetts] law gave Rowe the backing she needed to have meaningful conversations to move her grievance to some kind of agreement,” Donovan said. “That to me is incredibly powerful.”
As first reported in The Washington Post, attorneys for Rowe and the BSO entered mediation on the case in December.
“The Boston Symphony continues to strive to be an industry leader in furthering the role of women at every level of the organization, including staff, management, and orchestra,” their joint statement said.
Citing the BSO’s decision in 1952 to become “the first orchestra to implement a blind audition process,” the statement noted that this “was designed to promote fairness and to address the issue of gender imbalance, among other issues, in orchestras throughout the country at that time.
“In the same spirit of improvement and innovation it demonstrated more than six decades ago, the orchestra will continue to collaborate with musicians, staff, and other leaders in the field to accelerate the process of achieving gender parity.”