Clare Mundell is pictured at the Bangor Daily News office on Sept. 22. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A Bangor psychologist and member of the Bangor School Committee has sued Northern Light Health, alleging that she was paid about half of what her male colleagues were paid while working at Acadia Hospital.

The lawsuit from Clare E. Mundell was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The complaint seeks unspecified damages for unequal pay, sex discrimination and retaliation.

Mundell also is asking that U.S. District Judge Lance Walker order Northern Light to train all employees about civil rights law and pay disparity so other women aren’t paid less than their male colleagues.

Mundell, who was elected to the Bangor School Committee in November, began working at Acadia Hospital in November 2017 as a pool psychologist for $50 per hour. About two years later, she learned that her two male psychologist colleagues were making $90 and $95 per hour.

Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor is Northern Light’s psychiatric hospital.

“When Dr. Mundell reported this glaring pay disparity to management, instead of apologizing and taking immediate corrective action, they refused to admit that this major pay inequality was connected to her gender, and instead said they would pay the men more than her for another three months to ‘ease their transition,’” said Mundell’s attorney, Valerie Wicks of Augusta.

Suzanne Spruce, a spokesperson for Northern Light and Acadia Hospital, adamantly denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

“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,” Spruce said. “Northern Light Health is committed to treating all of its employees, regardless of gender, or any other protected class fairly and equitably as it works to provide top quality care to the people of Maine.”

Spruce also criticized the timing of Mundell’s lawsuit.

“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,” Spruce said. “Northern Light Health and Acadia Hospital plan 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 said she learned of the pay disparity during a conversation with a male colleague in their shared office in October 2019. The next month, she met with Acadia Hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. John Campbell, and complained that she was being paid much less than her male pool psychologist counterparts, the complaint said. Campbell allegedly told Mundell that the human resources department was evaluating salaries in all hospital departments and that she should wait for the outcome of that evaluation.

The following January, Mundell met with Acadia Hospital President Scott Oxley, who allegedly told her that the human resources department’s pay evaluation had revealed “pay discrepancies across the hospital,” the complaint said.

Oxley offered her a salaried position with the equivalent of $57 per hour in pay and a one-time bonus of $5,000, according to the complaint. He allegedly said there would be a transition period before male and female psychologists received equal pay.

That transition period from Feb. 7 until May 3, 2020, allegedly was to allow male psychologists time to adjust to the new $57 per hour rate that all psychologists were to be paid, an administrator allegedly told Mundell, according to the lawsuit.

Mundell gave her two weeks’ notice in March 2020 because Northern Light refused to recognize that its practice of paying female employees less than men was discriminatory. However, Mundell was told not to return to work a few days later, according to the lawsuit. That denied her the ability to transition her caseload to another psychologist, the lawsuit alleges.

Mundell said that she has not taken another job but hopes to go into private practice once the pandemic is over.

“I had the [financial] ability to walk away,” Mundell said Tuesday afternoon. “There are women I worked with who don’t have that privilege. I want back pay but I also want to get the word out that it is okay to talk with colleagues about pay.”

Mundell said that her experience at Acadia Hospital did not influence her decision to run for the School Committee. However, she said, not working allowed her to have time to campaign and work with her fellow committee members.