University pays $95,000 settlement to former field hockey coach in Equal Pay lawsuit


Former Kent State Field Hockey Coach Kathleen Wiler sued the university in federal court.

Leah Shepard, Staff Reporter

Kent State settled an equal pay lawsuit in January with Kathleen Wiler, a former women’s field hockey coach, who alleged the university violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by paying her less than her male counterparts.

This comes nearly three years after Wiler resigned from her position at the university and initially filed the lawsuit. The university settled the case with Wiler for $95,000.

Wiler’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, said the case is indicative of a larger problem in Division I coaching and a symptom of a society that “undervalues” women.

Kent State stated in its case that these claims were unfounded. The university argued that because there was no male equivalent to Wiler’s position, a comparison could not be made between her and other male head coaches.

According to the case file, the lawsuit was initially filed on March 3, 2020. The presiding judge ruled that there were facts that a jury could find to support the argument that Kent State violated the Equal Pay Act.

Wiler was employed by the university from March 2006 to February 2019. In that time, Wiler oversaw a roster of 25-26 players each season, supervised two assistant coaches and managed the field hockey team’s budget, which often exceeded $800,000.

During her time at the university, Wiler’s team won eight regular-season titles, five conference tournament titles and made five NCAA postseason appearances.

In early 2016, Wiler was the only female coach at Kent State and had the lowest base salary. After raising concerns about this, Wiler tried to renegotiate her contract, which was set to expire that June.

Wiler’s legal team claimed that after Wiler raised the issue of equal pay with Kent State’s then-athletic director Joel Nielsen, he broke off negotiations. This left Wiler with a “take-it-or leave it” contract extension, which she accepted. Nielsen could not be reached for comment.

In early 2017, Wiler retained legal counsel to renegotiate her contract, but she later filed a discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September of that year. After Kent State did not correct the issue, Wiler resigned in February 2019, after which she filed the March 2020 lawsuit.

The judge considered Jim Andrassy, Kent State’s men’s wrestling head coach of 18 seasons, as the primary comparator for the case. Though the prosecution brought forward more examples in their initial argument, the judge ruled that only Andrassy could be considered and compared to Wiler according to the evidence presented.

The legal team argued that though Wiler and Andrassy held the same responsibilities as coaches, Andrassy was paid substantially more than Wiler.

Wiler’s legal team cited both Andrassy’s higher base salary and number of bonuses as evidence. The team found in 2018 and 2019, Andrassy received a salary of $82,722 and $83,962, respectively, while Wiler received a salary of $79,590 and $81,182, respectively.

Andrassy earned nearly double the amount as Wiler in bonuses, according to the facts brought forward by Wiler’s legal team. Additionally, as cited in court by Wiler’s team, Andrassy was given 16 opportunities to earn bonuses, while Wiler was given 12.

After comparing Andrassy and Wiler’s team sizes, number of assistant coaches, spectator attendance and community interest, the court found there was enough evidence to support the argument that the responsibilities of Wiler and Andrassy were “substantially” equal.

Both field hockey and wrestling are “non-priority” sports and generate no net revenue for the university.

Newkirk, Wiler’s lead attorney and a nationally recognized specialist in implicit bias, said the case is “significant” because a judge found that a female coach could prove an unequal pay case by comparing herself to a male coach in a different sport.

Newkirk, a civil rights lawyer of 35 years, stressed the difficulties female coaches face in proving unequal pay in court.

“Traditionally, it’s always challenging for a female coach to show unequal pay,” Newkirk said. “Because she can either be defeated because the university claims that the market drives pay forces, or sometimes it’s hard for a female coach to have a male comparator.”

Newkirk said Kent State remained professional throughout the entire process, and he does not believe Kent State engaged in “willful discrimination.” He said it’s much less polarizing than that—that gender bias is implicit and much more subtle.

“What drives pay inequity for women in athletics and academics is implicit gender bias,” Newkirk said. “It’s biases that cause the devaluation of the female’s work relative to the overvaluation of the male’s work.”

Newkirk said that his firm, which represents clients from all over the country, aims to help universities understand this.

This is a problem all universities have, he said. He said it’s his assessment that almost every single female coach in Division I, II or III athletics is likely underpaid relative to males.

“The reason why is twofold,” Newkirk said. “One is that the system is a segregated system. We automatically devalue women’s sports, and women almost exclusively are only permitted to coach women. They’re always going to be being paid to coach the group of people who we, as a society, devalue. So, therefore, anyone who is coaching the women’s team is going to be paid less.”

Coaching female athletes requires just as much work as coaching male athletes, he added.

Newkirk said the second reason why female coaches are paid less is because women coaches are often expected to perform more duties that their male counterparts aren’t.

“There are normally going to be a host of other types of work that female coaches are required or expected to do,” Newkirk said. “It’s called service work; meaning, there’s lots of extra things they have to do in terms of being accessible to the athletes and being expected to be more accessible to the athletes because they’re female.”

Newkirk said this wasn’t the case in Wiler’s case, but is a common symptom of the problem nationally.

The university’s statement on this matter is the settlement itself, representative Eric Mansfield said.

Wiler could not be reached for comment.

Leah Shepard is a staff reporter. Contact her at [email protected]