Clare Mundell is pictured at the Bangor Daily News office on Sept. 22, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A Bangor psychologist can collect more than $200,000 from Acadia Hospital after she sued last year alleging that it paid her about half what her male counterparts received.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker’s decision on Tuesday marked the first time any judge has interpreted Maine’s Equal Pay Act since it passed in 1949, according to the legal team representing Clare Mundell, 59, of Bangor.

Walker’s ruling will allow Mundell, who is also a member of the Bangor School Committee, to collect triple the lost wage damages on her allegation that the psychiatric hospital violated the state equal pay law.

 The case will go forward on Mundell’s contention that Acadia also discriminated against her on the basis of sex and retaliated against her in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

A demand letter dated March 10, 2020, the day after Mundell quit, said that the hospital owed her more than $219,000 in back wages, damages, legal fees and interest as of that date. Mundell would not collect any damages until the case is closed.

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Mundell, who was elected to the Bangor School Committee in November 2020, 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. She sued the hospital and its parent organization, Northern Light Health, in January 2021.

Northern Light admitted in March 2021 that it had paid Mundell less than her male colleagues, but said it was not because of her sex.

“This important case for equal rights for women exists only because I had an impromptu discussion with a male coworker in our shared office space about the hourly rates we were being paid,” Mundell said Wednesday. “Unfair differences in pay for women are widespread across industries and workplaces. We all have the right to talk about what we are paid with our coworkers. I encourage all workers to share this information freely with one another. In this context, knowledge truly is power.”

Northern Light spokesperson Suzanne Spruce said Wednesday that the health care system would appeal Walker’s ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Boston.

“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, especially during this pandemic,” Spruce said.

Mundell’s attorney, Carol Garvan of Augusta, called Walker’s ruling “a landmark decision.”

“This decision puts employers on notice that they must proactively monitor and eradicate pay disparities based on gender, or risk having to pay triple damage penalties and interest,” Garvan said.