Duke University biomedical engineer Rachel Lance. (Kate Medley for The Assembly)

Last week, biomedical engineer Rachel Lance filed a federal lawsuit accusing Duke University of paying her 40 percent less than men with similar qualifications and retaliating against her when she complained. 

This isn’t the first time Duke’s anesthesiology department has been accused of discrimination and retaliation. In November 2020, Duke settled another lawsuit alleging that the department’s chair fired an anesthesiologist who “complained about the insensitive response and stubborn refusal to support those with mental health disabilities, and, additionally, the sex discrimination leveled against many female physicians.” 

Nor is Lance alone in feeling like women at Duke are paid less than their counterparts: A study from the Duke Academic Council’s Faculty Compensation Committee, published in May and obtained by The Assembly, shows that as of 2022, the “salaries of women, particularly those of non-Hispanic white women, often lag behind those of other groups, at times markedly.” 

“Duke has a problem with women, no question,” said Missy Cummings, a former Duke engineering professor and director of the university’s Humans and Autonomy Lab who decamped to George Mason University last year following her own pay dispute. 

Reporter Jeffrey Billman digs into the details of Lance’s lawsuit and broader questions about gender parity at the elite institution. 

A Duke Scientist Sued Over Unequal Pay. An Internal Study Says She’s Not Alone.

Biomedical engineer Rachel Lance was labeled a ‘troublemaker’ after she complained that Duke pays her significantly less than male colleagues. Her new lawsuit resurfaces questions about the elite university’s culture.

“I deserve equal pay, but so does the next generation of women,” Lance told The Assembly. “They might not change because of me. But if enough people stand up and talk about their story, then eventually, hopefully, it’ll become more difficult for them to suppress than to fix.” 

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Nearly seven years ago, Alicia and Anthony Campbell and Mary Dieudonne experienced a parent’s worst nightmare: their children were shot to death while away at college. 

N.C. A&T State University students Ahmad Campbell, 21, and Alisia Dieudonne, 19, were attending a party at an off-campus apartment in October 2016 when a fight broke out at about 2 a.m. Those involved were kicked out, but a second fight happened outside the apartment. Someone fired a gun at least three times. Bullets struck Ahmad and Alisia, who were hiding in a bedroom.

Two years went by before Greensboro detectives made an arrest. Lawrence Jacques Baird pleaded guilty in January 2022 to accessory after the fact to murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He is currently serving up to 11 years in prison. 

The students’ families also blamed the apartment complex’s property management company, Campus Evolution Villages LLC. They filed a lawsuit alleging that the complex’s owners provided inadequate security, allowed residents to flout the rules about parties, and made false promises about safety. 

That suit was settled for $6 million on May 14, the day before it was scheduled to go to trial. 

Valerie Johnson, a Durham-based attorney who represented the families, said companies such as Campus Evolution Villages have taken advantage of the growing student housing market. While these off-campus apartments fill a need for universities, schools have little power to protect students. 

The Assembly spoke with Johnson about why this case is important. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Assembly: Why did you file the lawsuit? 

Johnson: I think the most important thing was that the families have really been betrayed by this company. It wasn’t lost on any of us that this is really an industry that depends on a very vulnerable population of young people for their existence. They’re college students, and their parents are depending on other people to make sure their students are safe. 

What’s the relationship between companies offering off-campus housing and the universities? 

Johnson: They don’t have any official standing with the universities whose students are living or visiting there. They aren’t answerable to anyone. Universities have seen that their [student] population—either they don’t have enough housing, or students simply want to live away from the rules that are imposed on them in on-campus housing. But it turns out that those rules are there for a very good reason. 

The lawsuit alleges that Campus Evolution Villages failed to take measures to ensure safety, including using off-duty Greensboro police officers and private security. What were some other problems?

Johnson: If the rules had been enforced, this tragedy would not have happened. That duty to provide security only arises when there is a threat. And the threats were real on this property. They were hidden from the tenants and from some visitors. There was no signage to keep trespassers off the property. And importantly, tenants [who] violated the rules were given a slap on the wrist. 

What is your advice to parents and students looking at off-campus housing? 

Johnson: First of all, I would say that promises of safety are not enough. It’s important to check with the police department to see what the crime statistics are. That should be a start. Secondly, it may not be easy to talk to current residents, but certainly try to do so and see what the reputation of the complex is. 

Have any suggestions for improving this newsletter or stories we should look into? Email us at courts@theassemblync.com.

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