BSO Settles Pay Discrimination Lawsuit with its Principal Flutist

Elizabeth Rowe (Borggreve)
February 15, 2019 — The Boston Symphony Orchestra yesterday agreed to settle a case filed against the nonprofit last summer by its principal flutist, a woman who claimed she was paid significantly less than a male colleague doing comparable work, in what was believed to be the first lawsuit under the state's new equity pay law.

Elizabeth Rowe, who joined the BSO in 2004, had sought $200,000 in unpaid wages along with other damages and costs.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in a joint statement with Rowe said both parties "have successfully mediated the case involving Ms. Rowe’s lawsuit against the orchestra. While the details of the resolution are confidential, all those involved in the process are satisfied with the result."

The Boston Globe reported that the case was dismissed “with prejudice and without costs or attorneys’ fees to either party.”

The Washington Post reported that the two parties had entered into mediation in December.

Rowe reportedly was paid $70,000 a year less than principal oboist John Ferrillo, who, the paper reported, was paid about $280,000 for the year ending in August 2016.

She had asked the BSO to raise her pay to equal Ferrillo’s in 2015, 2016, and 2017, without success, according to the Boston Business Journal. Under the new pay law, which took effect July 1, there are factors, including training and seniority, which may allow employers to pay comparable employees at different levels.

The BSO noted that “the flute and the oboe are not comparable instruments, nor are they treated as such by most major orchestras in the United States,” The Globe reported.

“As with all orchestras in the United States, different instruments invariably command different salaries,” the BSO reportedly argued, noting that "Setting compensation for each musician, particularly principals, is a nuanced process involving many factors. Gender, however, is not and has never been one of those factors at the BSO.”

The BSO in yesterday's joint statement noted that it "continues to strive to be an industry leader in furthering the role of women at every level of the organization, including staff, management, and orchestra" and that in 1952 became the first orchestra to adopt a blind audition process aimed at addressing gender imbalance, among other issues.

Rowe holds the Walter Piston Principal Flute Chair. Prior to joining the BSO, Rowe held titled positions with the orchestras of Fort Wayne, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., and was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. A member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Rowe serves on the faculties of the New England Conservatory and the Tanglewood Music Center. She received her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Southern California.