Norway settles gender pay lawsuit in Minnesota


A former employee of the Norwegian consulate in Minneapolis will receive nearly $2 million from the Norwegian government to settle a pay discrimination lawsuit that has been in court for years.

Norway agreed to the settlement several months after a federal judge ruled the country violated Minnesota law by paying the plaintiff, Ellen Ewald, $30,000 less per year than a male counterpart with a similar job, according to the Associated Press.

Norway agreed Friday to pay Ewald $1.9 million to cover damages and attorneys' fees, the Star Tribune reported.

Ewald, a Twin Cities native, was hired at the consulate in 2008 at a salary of $70,000.

She told a Minnesota House committee last year that she discovered a younger male colleague, who was hired at the same time for what was advertised as a "parallel" post, was being paid $100,000 per year. He was also covered by health insurance but she was not, according to KARE 11.

Ewald pointed out her qualifications for the position were stronger than his; unlike her colleague, she had lived in Norway for 20 years and spoke the language fluently.

"Then I found out that his salary was way more, 42 percent more than mine at the time. I was stunned," she said then, KARE 11 reported.

Ewald complained about the pay disparity. When the Norwegian Embassy refused to raise her compensation, she sued. Her contract with the consulate was not renewed in 2011, the Star Tribune notes.

Ewald and her attorney called the outcome a major victory in the battle for pay equity, according to the newspaper.

Norway's reputation takes a hit

Norway has gained an international reputation for its support of pay equity, but it's been getting a lot of bad publicity because of how it's handled this case. Critics in Norway in in the U.S. have called it "embarrassing, according to the Star Tribune.

During court proceedings, the Norwegian Embassy used diplomatic immunity to keep the consulate's hiring and salary records confidential, and to shield its honorary consulate from being required to testify, according to KARE 11.

The Embassy also claimed in court documents that the two positions were not similar enough to require they be paid the same.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Friday restating that position.

“We have consistently emphasized that the wage difference between the two positions were well-founded and based on objective conditions,” it stated, according to the Star Tribune. “That said, we take note that the court found that this was not adequately documented."

Ewald is now a partner in Tysvar, Minnesota-based consulting firm specializing in health care and the "green economy."

Next Up