Flautist sues top US orchestra in equal pay row

4 July 2018, 17:23

Elizabeth Rowe is paid $70,000 less than her male counterpart
Elizabeth Rowe is paid $70,000 less than her male counterpart. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal flautist is suing the orchestra for paying her $70,000 less than her male woodwind counterpart.

Elizabeth Rowe, who joined the BSO as principal flautist in 2004 after a successful blind audition, has filed what appears to be the first lawsuit under the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law that took effect on 1 July.

Rowe claims to have asked for years to be paid the same as the principal male oboist – the best comparison to her role in the orchestra. However, the lawsuit states that the BSO has continued to pay her significantly less.

Rowe, who also teaches at the New England Conservatory, states that she has spent the past six months researching the BSO gender pay gap, and advising orchestra officials that the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law requires them to pay her the same as the oboist – who earned $280,484 in 2016. According to the lawsuit, the orchestra took no action.

When the 2016 equal pay law took effect on Sunday, after a two-year waiting period, Rowe’s lawyer filed the complaint. Stamped by the court on Monday at 10.07am, her lawsuit appears to be the first equal pay claim filed under the new state law.

In a statement to the Boston Herald, Rowe’s lawyer Elizabeth A. Rodgers said: “It is a sad day when somebody with this degree of prominence and expertise and superb reputation has to file a lawsuit to try to make things right.”

The orchestra's principal oboist earned $280,484 in 2016
The orchestra's principal oboist earned $280,484 in 2016. Picture: Getty

She continued: “She pointed them to the law and tried to resolve it internally. She gave them every possible opportunity to do so from January to July. She gave them documentation and evidence with ample evidence of law and regulation. She regrets she had to address it in a lawsuit to get them to fix this problem.”

Taryn Lott, a spokeswoman for the BSO, said in a statement that the orchestra does not have a comment on the lawsuit “at this time.”

Rowe’s lawsuit claims that under the new state law, she should be paid no less than a male player in a comparable position – in this case, the BSO’s principal oboist, who sits next to her in the ensemble.

Rowe says the orchestra has used her as the ‘face of the BSO’ and has singled her out for prominent solos, public relations and donor meetings, as well as using her to attract members of the public to concerts. Rowe states that since the principal oboist was hired and given a substantial contract in 2001, her successes with the orchestra have rivalled his.

Rowe also claims that the BSO have previously tried to silence her concerns about pay inequality. In December 2017, the BSO asked her to be interviewed by Katie Couric for a National Geographic piece on the orchestra’s longtime practice of holding blind auditions, a process for screening musicians which is thought to combat race and gender discrimination.

Rowe told the orchestra’s public relations staff she’d love to be interviewed, and mentioned her concerns over the gender pay gap at the BSO. The staff subsequently retracted her invitation.