Flautist seeks back pay over gender discrimination

BOSTON • On a winter day 14 years ago, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) said it had found a new principal flautist. Two hundred and fifty-one players had applied.

Elizabeth Rowe, 29 years old then, had landed in one of the country's "big five" orchestras. But after she had the job, she believed being a woman hurt her.

In July, she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit, seeking US$200,000 (S$275,000) in back pay. It came after years of appealing privately to the management about the roughly US$70,000 less a year she is paid than John Ferrillo, 63, the orchestra's principal oboist.

The BSO defended its pay structure, saying the flute and oboe are not comparable because, in part, the oboe is more difficult to play and there is a larger pool of flautists.

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, she said: "Money is the one thing that we can look to to measure people's value in an organisation.

"You look at the number of women who graduate from conservatories and you look at the number of women in the top leadership positions in orchestras and it's not 50-50 still."

Ferrillo does not just sit next to Rowe in the woodwind section. They are musically joined at the hip, whether dancing across Debussy or the second movement of Beethoven's Sixth. They are also friends and admirers.

When the BSO approached Ferrillo, he was a prized member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In 2001, the BSO paid him twice what its rank-and-file members make.

The BSO and Ferrillo have an agreement which prohibits disclosure of salary. But the figure, now US$314,600, became public as part of its tax filing.

Coming in to the BSO in 2004, Rowe asked to be paid the same salary Ferrillo had negotiated. The orchestra turned her down.

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

The BSO said although four other principal BSO players - all men - earn more than Rowe, she is paid more than nine other principals, of whom only one is a woman.

Rowe's current salary is US$250,149 a year.

At the request of Rowe's attorneys, Ferrillo wrote a statement of support. In his court filing, he refers to Rowe as his "equal" partner.

But he stops short of endorsing her salary demand, saying he does not think it is his place to tell the BSO how much it should pay anyone.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'Flautist seeks back pay over gender discrimination'. Print Edition | Subscribe