Boston, MA – Mere days after the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Law became officially enacted, a gender-based wage discrimination lawsuit is making headlines. Principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), Elizabeth Rowe, is suing the organization on the account that she is earning substantially less than her male peer who holds an equivalent position. In what is believed to be the first lawsuit under this new ruling, Rowe argues that she should not be earning $70,000 less than John Ferrillo, who is the BSO’s principal oboist and -- according to the lawsuit’s assertions -- has an orchestral role analogous to hers.

Rowe joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2004 after earning the coveted position of principal flutist during a blind audition. She also teaches at both the New England Conservatory and the Tanglewood Music Center, and worked as the principal flutist at the Los Angeles Philharmonic prior to her employment at the BSO. Since joining the orchestra, she has performed as a soloist with them 27 times, which is more times than any of the BSO’s other principal musicians have been featured as soloists. Her lawsuit also presents that the BSO frequently promotes her as their “face,” focusing on her in their advertising endeavors, benefactor communications, and social media posts.

Since 2015, Rowe has been petitioning the Boston Symphony Orchestra at least annually to raise her salary such that it is equal to that of John Ferrillo; however, they have never complied with her requests. Since 2016, when news of the new Equal Pay Law first surfaced, Rowe claims to have explained to her BSO employers that they will not be legally allowed to pay her less than a male co-worker of a comparable position, as she asserts that they have been doing for many years. According to Rowe’s lawyer, attorney Elizabeth A. Rodgers, she has provided the BSO “every possible opportunity to [rectify the pay gap between her and Ferrillo] from January to July.” Rodgers asserted that Rowe “gave them documentation…with ample evidence of law and regulation. She regrets she had to address it in a lawsuit to get them to fix this problem.”

A main example the lawsuit cites as discriminatory comes from an alleged incident which occurred in December of 2017. At this time, a National Geographic documentary episode was in production regarding the orchestral blind auditions, which were implemented as a way to mitigate discrimination based on factors such as gender, race, and additional physical attributes. The BSO management allegedly requested that Rowe partake in an interview for this documentary episode, which was to be hosted by Katie Couric.

Rowe reportedly told them she would love to be a part of the project; however, the lawsuit also states that when Rowe showed enthusiasm for being a part of the documentary, she also expressed concern about the gender equity issues that she still saw in the BSO, such as her pay disparity case. Allegedly, after mentioning her thoughts on the topic of “known salary discrimination” to the Boston Symphony Orchestra management, Rowe was immediately informed that she would not be permitted to participate in the documentary.

Rowe has been paid less than other male principal players in the BSO including the top trumpet and viola. Rowe’s lawsuit also claims that even after accounting for other salary factors such as seniority, the Boston Symphony Orchestra still pays her 30% less than Ferrillo. The lead oboist, however, does not seem to resent Rowe’s open discussion of his salary compared to hers. In her lawsuit, Ferrillo is quoted and describes her as “the finest orchestral flutist in North America and absolutely equal to himself." Since the case made news, he has also publicly stated, “I consider Elizabeth to be my peer and equal, at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.”

Rowe’s lawsuit requests over $200,000 in unpaid wages and additional compensation from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She and her attorney hope to reach an amicable resolution with the organization, and have continuously reiterated that the filing of a public lawsuit was their last resort. The Boston Symphony Orchestra declined to publicly address the lawsuit, stating:

“The orchestra will not comment on pending litigation. The BSO is
committed to a strong policy of equal employment opportunity and to the practice of comparable pay for comparable work, as well as abiding by the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.”

According to Rodgers, Rowe remains hopeful that this will be an opportunity for the BSO to act as a positive social role model for modern businesses.