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Woman Sues Orchestra For Pay Discrimination. There’s Just One Problem.

The first chair flutist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is suing the organization, claiming she receives $70,000 less than her male counterpart because she is a woman.

Elizabeth Rowe joined the BSO when she was 29 after a blind audition, which, according to The Washington Post involved playing “behind a brown, 33-foot polyester screen” so no one knew her gender or race. Rowe is now 44, and knows that John Ferrillo, a 63-year-old man, makes nearly $70,000 more than her, because his salary was disclosed in a tax filing since the BSO is a nonprofit organization.

Ferrillo has been with the BSO since 2001. Rowe has been with the orchestra since 2004. Ferrillo was also lured away from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Post reported, by offering to pay him “twice what the orchestra’s rank-and-file-make.”

But the biggest difference between the two? Rowe plays the flute, while Ferrillo plays the oboe. Two very different instruments. So, this is not a case of unequal pay for equal work. The BSO provided the Post with a statement in which it “defended its pay structure, saying that the flute and oboe are not comparable because, in part, the oboe is more difficult to play and there is a larger pool of flutists.”

The BSO insisted gender plays no role in compensating players.

There you have it. Ferrillo is a prized oboist, which is much rarer than a prized flutist.

The Post went through the average pay (that’s how people claim wage discrepancy, rather than comparing apples to apples) of America’s largest orchestras, and found that only 18% of the top earners are women, and that the “top male earner makes $535,789, while the top female earner makes $410,912.” The Post does not say what instruments these top earners play or for which orchestras they play.

There’s more:

“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.”

To be fair to Rowe, she didn’t want her lawsuit to become public. The Post reports that she only wanted her bosses to know about the lawsuit, but the Boston Herald discovered the suit and spoke to Rowe. Her lawsuit will test the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law which her lawsuit claims requires the orchestra to pay her the same or more than a male in a comparable position. She contends lead oboist is comparable. The BSO says otherwise.

The Boston Herald reported that Rowe was used as the “face of the BSO” and retaliated against her when she brought up the pay issue previously.

“In December 2017, the BSO asked her to be interviewed by Katie Couric for a National Geographic segment on the orchestra’s longtime practice of using blind auditions — a procedure of screening auditioning musicians from their evaluators to combat race and gender bias,” the Herald reported. “Rowe told the orchestra’s public relations staff she’d love to be interviewed and mentioned her concerns of salary discrimination at the BSO. The invitation was rescinded.”

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