A clinical psychologist who worked at Acadia Hospital in Bangor for two years has filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against her former employer after learning her hourly rate was slightly more than half of what some male counterparts earned.

Dr. Clare Mundell filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor against the hospital and its parent company, Northern Light Health. She also alleges that she endured unlawful retaliation because the hospital prohibited her from working during the two-week notice period before her resignation was to take effect. She is represented by attorneys Valerie Wicks and Carol Garvan of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, which specializes in employment law.

In an interview Tuesday, Mundell said her biggest motivation in filing the lawsuit is raising awareness.

“I know if it happened to me, it’s likely happening to other people where I worked,” she said, adding that she’s lucky to “have the privilege to walk away from a bad situation.”

“A lot of women don’t have this luxury,” she said.

Northern Light denied the allegations in a written statement Tuesday.

“It is patently false to say that Acadia Hospital has a ‘practice of paying female employees much less than their male colleagues’ and it is also untrue that there is a widespread problem of gender-based pay disparity at Acadia Hospital or any of Northern Light Health’s other facilities,” the company said.

“In a time where all valuable resources are currently focused on the effort to fight the COVID-19 surge in our state, it is disappointing that Dr. Mundell has chosen to take advantage of this crisis situation to obtain publicity for her lawsuit.”

Northern Light and the hospital said it planned to “vigorously defend against Dr. Mundell’s lawsuit, and look forward to the opportunity to provide an accurate account of the facts of this case during the course of the litigation.”

Mundell joined Acadia Hospital, an acute care and mental health facility, as a pool psychologist in November 2017. She became part of a team with four others who were responsible for a range of services, including psychological testing, consultation, individual and group psychotherapy and crisis intervention. She had prior experience in both public and psychiatric hospitals and operated private practices in two different states. Her hourly rate was set at $50.

Acadia Hospital was a part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems when Mundell was first hired. That organization was renamed Northern Light Health in 2018, not long after it merged with Mercy Health System, which operates Mercy Hospital in Portland, among other health care facilities.

On her 2019 performance evaluation, Mundell received a rating of 4.97 on a scale of 1-5. Her supervisor described her as “a dependable and reliable colleague who presents with a high level of professionalism,” according to the complaint.

In October 2019, Mundell learned during a conversation with a male counterpart, identified in the complaint only by his initials, that he earned $90 per hour and that another male psychologist earned $95 per hour. She later learned that the two other female psychologists made $50 and $48.82 per hour, respectively.

The next month, Mundell met with Acadia’s chief medical officer, John Campbell, to express concerns about the pay discrepancies. He told her, according to the complaint, that the human resources department “was evaluating salaries in all hospital departments and that she should wait for the outcome of that evaluation.”

In January 2020, Mundell met with hospital president Scott Oxley, who told her that the evaluation had revealed “pay discrepancies across the hospital.” He then offered her a salaried position, with an equivalent hourly rate of $57 per hour, and later offered her a bonus of $5,000 to address some back pay. Mundell was still upset, primarily because, she said, Oxley never acknowledged that the discrepancies were related to sex.

She also learned that her male counterparts would be paid at their higher rate for an additional three months before it would drop back to $57.

In March, Mundell said Oxley increased the bonus offer to $20,000.

Two days later, Mundell resigned, saying she was “saddened to leave her deeply satisfying clinical work, but profoundly disappointed with the sexism she had experienced at Northern Light and upper management’s failure to see the pay discrepancy issue as a gender-based problem.”

Rather than stay on for two weeks to transition her clients, Mundell said, she was told to leave immediately, which bothered her. At the time, she ran an adolescent group and was particularly concerned about leaving this group without notice.

Mundell, who has been out of work since but was elected to the Bangor School Committee in November, first filed a complaint in April with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which issued a notice of right to sue in October.

She is seeking a jury trial, back pay, compensatory damages and a requirement that all Northern Light employees conduct training on discrimination laws. She said she doesn’t think what happened to her is the fault of any individual, but is more a result of the culture and the “systemic oppression” that exists for women in many fields.

“I think people should know that it’s OK to talk to your colleagues about pay,” she said. “That’s how I found out about this. I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

“The most important thing is to have people be aware that this happens and there is something they can do.”

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