Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Seattle U Withheld Adjunct Wages

A former adjunct faculty member has filed a class action lawsuit against Seattle University that alleges that they and other non-tenure track faculty were not paid for breaks and work outside of the classroom.

In a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Spectator, the complaint alleges that Seattle U “is engaging in a systematic scheme of wage and hour violations against its current and former piece-rate paid adjunct faculty members working in the state.”

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 2, could affect an estimated 200 current and former adjunct professors. It is unclear at this time if adjunct professors were notified about this lawsuit prior to the publication of this article.

“Simply put,” the lawsuit states, “[Seattle U] did not compensate its adjunct faculty members for rest periods and for all time worked during Class Period as required by law.”

A class action lawsuit allows a plaintiff to sue on behalf of themselves and a group of others, referred to as the class, who have been similarly affected by the alleged conduct. All adjunct professors at Seattle U are paid per course taught, on what is referred to as a piece-rate basis.

The university released a statement via email to The Spectator on Tuesday, which is written below in its entirety: “While we are still reviewing the lawsuit, we believe it is without merit and will be responding to it in due course.”

The lawsuit alleges that Seattle U failed to pay adjunct professors minimum wage for all hours worked, “including, but not limited to, grading papers and course materials, creating online course materials, developing course materials, attending mandatory faculty meetings, assisting students with senior symposium, answering student questions, and pre-and-post course preparation.”

The lawsuit is also alleging that adjunct professors who worked at least one day with a class or shift lasting longer than four hours were not paid for mandatory breaks in addition to the piece-rate pay. Additionally, it claims the university failed to satisfy wage obligations assumed through contract.

If Seattle U is found to have been intentionally and willfully withholding these wages, the university will have to pay twice the amount of damages. It is unclear what the total monetary damages in this case could amount to at this time.


“Simply put,” the lawsuit states, “[Seattle U] did not compensate its adjunct faculty members for rest periods and for all time worked during Class Period as required by law.”

Vice President and University Counsel at Seattle U Mary Petersen said that the university is planning to submit their defense prior to the Jan. 22 deadline.

“We have received the lawsuit and are reviewing the complaint,” Petersen said. “We will be responding.”

This is not the first lawsuit that has involved Seattle U and its adjunct professors. The university faced another lawsuit in 2016 when its non-tenure track faculty members attempted to unionize. The non-tenure track faculty had voted to unionize in 2014, but after the university appealed their vote to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), they still did not have a union.

At that time, the NLRB made a legally binding decision forcing Seattle U to allow adjunct faculty members to form a union. The university ignored the decision, however, deciding to further escalate to a higher court. The university said they would challenge the decision until it reached the Supreme Court.

Seattle U has challenged the NLRB specifically on religious grounds: University President Father Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J. said in a video statement in 2016 that the federal government could infringe upon the university’s ability to make decisions aligned with its religious character. This, he said, could challenge the religious authority of Seattle U as a Jesuit university.

The union-organizing committee decided in January 2018, however, to drop the suit under the guidance of the Service Employees International Union, putting an end to litigation involving adjunct professors at Seattle U until this year.

The plaintiff of the current suit is represented by India Lin Bodien, a Tacoma-based attorney who specializes in wage and hour, employment discrimination, and unfair competition cases. She is also one of four attorneys representing a group of former Nike employees in a lawsuit that alleges gender-based discrimination within the company.

The case is scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 30 of this year.

Josh Merchant and Sofía Muro-Wells contributed to this report.

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