An American woman who worked for three years at the Norwegian consulate in Minneapolis is suing the Norwegian government after she was paid USD 40,000 less than a male colleague in a similar role. Ellen Ewald alleged she earned less simply because she was a woman.
“I am so disappointed in Norway!” Ewald told newspaper Dagsavisen. as her case got underway in a Minnesota court on Monday. “I might have expected it from another country, but not from Norway. Norway goes around the world and supports equality in poor countries, but fails to practice it itself.”
Support from Mondale
In 2008 Ewald was employed at the Minnesota consulate in a role responsible for research and higher education in Norway and the USA. At the same time, a male applicant was given a role responsible for business development and innovation. While Ewald was hired locally and did not come under Norwegian labour rights, both her position and the one for business development were funded by branches of the Norwegian government. Her salary was USD 70,000, while her male counterpart was paid USD 110,000.
When the discrepancy was discovered, Ewald’s boss, Honorary Consul General and former US vice president Walter Mondale, wrote to Norway’s ambassador to the US at the time, Wegger Christian Strømmen, in Washington DC. Mondale said he recognized that job market differences for business and education would result in some salary difference, but claimed this gap was far too wide. Norway, Mondale wrote, is known as a champion of equality between the sexes, and since the case involved two people working closely together and with exemplary results and decisions, “we find the difference unfair and embarrassing.”
In line with the other locally hired employees at Norway’s 103 foreign missions around the world, Ewald was also denied the benefits accorded Norwegian workers when they’re sent abroad. Local employees aren’t eligible for the same job protection rights Norwegians have nor are they covered by Norwegian labour contracts and wage regulations.
Norway initially claimed diplomatic immunity
Dagsavisen reported that Norwegian officials initially resisted Ewald’s legal complain by claiming diplomatic immunity. That was later withdrawn and the trial began in Minnesota on Monday.
“We strongly dispute that there has been any discrimination,” Frode Øverland Andersen, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Oslo, told Dagsavisen. “This involves two different positions with two different eligibility requirements.” He claimed that the “market rates” for employees with business background are higher than those with competence in the field of education, adding that “we look forward to getting the issue settled.”
Ewald, who told Dagsavisen she’s spent an estimated USD 1 million on the trial. claims she has received “a lot of support” from women within Norway’s Foreign Ministry, where they’ve actively struggled to win a majority of divisional leadership roles but sill hold just 32 percent of ambassador posts.