The longest-serving female professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has sued the university, alleging she has received unequal pay because of her gender.

Josephine Potuto has been a law professor for 45 years and is the longest continuously serving professor in the NU College of Law, male or female.

The suit was filed Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court by her Lincoln-based attorneys, Vincent Powers and Kathleen Neary. The defendant officially is the governing board of the NU system, the Board of Regents.

Potuto has worked as UNL’s faculty athletics representative since 1997. But her lawsuit says UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green told her this year when she again complained about unequal pay that he intended to replace her as the athletics representative.

Besides citing the pay issue, her suit says Green’s decision to remove her as athletics representative was retaliation for speaking out about a discriminatory pay system. Neary said Tuesday that Potuto hasn’t yet been replaced in that role.

The athletics representative plays a part in her institution’s compliance with NCAA regulations and represents UNL faculty members on matters involving NCAA rules.

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UNL spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said her institution “has reviewed the claims of Professor Potuto” and found them without merit. “The university is prepared to defend itself against these claims and is confident that it will ultimately prevail.”

Fiddelke said that was all the university would say because the matter now is in litigation.

The suit says pay discrimination has been cited for several years by the UNL Commission on the Status of Women. Further, the suit says, NU Law Dean Richard Moberly has called Potuto’s situation a compelling example of gender pay disparity in the law school.

“The university made the choice to ignore their own commission’s report,” Neary said. “She’s made the choice that she wants to be paid fairly.”

The NU system lists Potuto’s salary as $229,460, compared with long-serving law colleagues Robert Denicola’s $273,653 and Martin Gardner’s $256,755. Neary said Potuto has no problem with her male colleagues’ compensation, but she wants equal pay.

Those figures include “endowed chairs” for all three (endowed chairs honor distinguished faculty members and are added to base pay) and Potuto’s $5,500 per year as faculty athletics representative.

Potuto has won many awards through the years, Neary said, and late last month won the Barbara Hibner Trailblazer Award for her support of UNL women’s sports.

Neary said state law allows Potuto to amend her suit to include all similarly affected female employees at UNL. “We are considering that,” Neary said.

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