Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Elizabeth Rowe, Star Flutist at Boston Symphony, Files Suit Over Pay Equity

I played trumpet and French horn in junior high school, in both the concert and marching bands.

My dad, I'm sure, would have loved it had I ended up a jazz virtuoso, but that wasn't to be, heh.

In any case, the Boston symphony has an interesting argument about how oboe-ists are essentially unique, and deserve a higher pay level regardless of sex. On the other hand, if modern society is genuine about erasing gender inequality, shouldn't first chairs be paid the same, regardless of the instrument and regardless of the gender.

At WaPo, "A star flutist is paid $64,451 less than her male counterpart. So she’s suing":


BOSTON — On a winter day 14 years ago, the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced that it had finally found a new principal flutist. The search had not been easy. Two hundred fifty-one players had applied, 59 were called to Symphony Hall to audition, and when it was over, only one remained.

Elizabeth Rowe, just 29, had landed in one of the country’s “big five” orchestras. And as a principal, she occupied a special seat, the classical musical equivalent of cracking the Yankees’ starting rotation.

“If I could have a dream job, this was it,” Rowe says.

To win the slot, Rowe had taken part in the BSO’s blind auditions, playing her flute onstage behind a brown, 33-foot polyester screen. That way, the orchestra’s 12-member selection committee couldn’t see her and it wouldn’t matter whether she were a man or a woman, black or white. But after Rowe had the job, something important changed. That’s when she believes being a woman hurt her in one key way.

In July, Rowe, 44, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the BSO seeking $200,000 in back pay. Her lawsuit came after years of appealing privately to management about the roughly $70,000 less a year she is paid than John Ferrillo, 63, the orchestra’s principal oboist. Rowe contends that she should make an equal salary and that her gender is the reason she doesn’t.

The BSO, in a statement, defended its pay structure, saying that the flute and oboe are not comparable, in part because the oboe is more difficult to play and there is a larger pool of flutists. Gender, the statement says, “is not one of the factors in the compensation process at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.”

This week, Rowe will enter mediation with the BSO aimed at resolving the conflict before it goes to court.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the lawsuit, Rowe says her case has far-reaching implications. Her lawsuit will be the first against an orchestra to test Massachusetts’s new equal-pay law, its outcome potentially affecting women across the U.S. workforce who are paid less than their male colleagues.

“Money is the one thing that we can look to to measure people’s value in an organization,” Rowe says. “You look at the number of women that graduate from conservatories and then you look at the number of women in the top leadership positions in orchestras, and it’s not 50-50 still. Women need to see equality, and they need to see fairness in order to believe that that’s possible.”

Ferrillo doesn’t just sit next to Rowe in the woodwind section. They’re musically joined at the hip, whether dancing across Debussy or the second movement of Beethoven’s Sixth. They’re also friends and mutual admirers.

They both know what it takes to earn a prominent spot in such a competitive field. Both attended music school, paid their own way to travel to auditions while in their 20s and dealt with rejection. It took Ferrillo 10 years and 22 tries to earn his first symphony position, as second oboe in the San Francisco Symphony in 1985.

But by the time the BSO approached Ferrillo to fill its oboe vacancy, he was a prized member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In 2001, to lure him away, the BSO paid him twice what the orchestra’s rank-and-file make. The BSO and Ferrillo have a nondisclosure agreement in place, which prohibits disclosure of his salary. But the figure, now $314,600, became public as part of the BSO’s tax filing. (Nonprofit organizations are required to list the top five compensated employees earning more than $100,000.)

Coming into the BSO in 2004, Rowe had done her homework. She asked to be paid the same salary Ferrillo had negotiated. The orchestra turned her down. Rowe says management also would not make her “overscale” — the term for what all principals routinely receive over their base pay — a percentage of her base, which would allow her to avoid asking for a raise every year. Instead, the BSO offered her $750 a week over base the first year, $950 the second and $1,100 once she earned tenure.

Rowe accepted the offer but did not forget. Over the next 14 years, she says, she regularly asked to be paid the same as her male colleague.

For someone who considers herself a private person — Rowe doesn’t use social media or even have a website, as many professional musicians do — going public has been trying, she says. Even when she decided to sue, Rowe had hoped that only her bosses would know. Instead, a Boston Herald reporter stumbled upon the case and published an article. Even though the stress prompted her to ask a doctor for sleep medication, Rowe says, she has no regrets about filing her suit. She says the BSO gave her no other choice.

In her suit, Rowe alleges that the orchestra ignored her and retaliated when she continued to demand a raise, even pulling an invitation to be interviewed by Katie Couric for a National Geographic TV special on gender equality.

It is the orchestra’s argument — in a response filed with the court — that “the flute and the oboe are not comparable.” In the statement to The Washington Post, the BSO also said the oboe is “second only to the concertmaster (first chair violin) in its leadership role” and is “responsible for tuning the orchestra.” The limited pool of great oboists, the BSO said, “gives oboists more leverage when negotiating compensation.”

Although four other principal BSO players — all men — earn more than Rowe, the orchestra notes that she is paid more than nine other principals, of which only one, harpist Jessica Zhou, is a woman. Rowe has been given occasional raises, and her current salary is $250,149 a year...
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