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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Former Quad Club employees claim unfair wage discrepancies

Two white students, former employees of the Quadrangle Club, claim that they were paid a higher wage than non-student employees for the same work. Lena Muldavin and Elizabeth Daniel, both third-years in the College, say the wage difference was part of an overall pattern of preferential treatment for student employees, most of whom are white, over non-student employees, most of whom are black. The two say they suspect the wage difference at the Quad Club to be racially motivated, but the Quad Club management denies these claims.

“It just isn’t true,” said Christ Nogulich, general manager of the Quad Club. “It’s an off-the-wall comment with no substance whatsoever. Everyone is treated pretty much the same here.”

Nogulich added that members of the Quadrangle Club’s “ethnically diverse work force…have worked their way up through the ranks over many years of service and have attained supervisory and managerial positions.”

According to Nogulich, 55 percent of the student employees are white, 18 percent are black, 18 percent are Hispanic, and 9 percent are Asian. Sixty-seven percent of the non-student employees are black, 15 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are Asian. Overall, 58 percent of the club’s employees are black, 25 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Asian.

Muldavin and Daniel were hired as servers for the Quadrangle Club dining room in September 2004 and spring 2005, respectively. Their starting rate was $8 an hour, as advertised on the student employment website.

But while working a long shift during the summer, Muldavin discovered that some of her more experienced non-student coworkers earned a wage of $7.25 an hour or less.

“I was in the kitchen, complaining about how, for $8 an hour, I shouldn’t be doing this for them, and [another employee] said, ‘You’re getting eight [dollars] an hour?’” recalled Muldavin. “After that, she demanded a raise.”

Current employees, who refused to be quoted by name, say that the dining room manager approached Nogulich and raised the issue of the wage difference. According to one non-student employee, Nogulich confirmed that older employees in the dining room earned less than the students, and was surprised that they had found out, saying, “How would they know?”

Nogulich, perplexed by such claims, said the conversation recounted by employees is a fabrication. At the time of Muldavin and Daniel’s employment, he said, “all the other waitstaff were making $8 or more.” And while some employees were earning less money in different positions, Nogulich emphasized that all dining room servers made the same wage.

Muldavin claimed that it was only after the allegedly “fabricated” conversation occurred that non-student employees’ wages were raised to $8 an hour.

“He gave me a raise, but I’m still angry,” said one current employee, a black man. “Our starting pay was $7. Now we’ve finally made it to $7.75, after years of work—and you hire students and pay them $8 an hour? Even if you change the pay, to pay them the same amount as the new employees, it’s not fair—we’ve been working here longer.”

“[Nogulich] had no intention of giving them any sort of raise until they found out,” added Muldavin. “Clearly he knew what he was doing was wrong, because once they noticed, he gave them a wage increase.”

Overall, four current employees, three of whom are not students, support Muldavin and Daniel’s claims that base levels for student and non-student wages differed in spring 2005. All declined to be quoted by name, fearing they would lose their positions at the Quadrangle Club.

“The way the organization functions does not represent at all what’s being implied here…that decisions are made about people based on their color,” Nogulich said.

Yet Daniel said that student employees, most of whom were white, were treated differently than the club’s mostly black non-student employees. “It was obvious that there were disparities,” she said, “but I wouldn’t come to find out about the [difference in] wages until this summer.”

Michael Rosen, president of the Quadrangle Club, discredited Daniel’s remarks. “The playing of the ‘race card’ by disgruntled employees is uncalled for,” Rosen said. “To imply that the Club has a racist policy is ridiculous. The dining room manager, his assistant, the chef, the rooms coordinator, and the comptroller are all members of minority groups.”

In support of Daniel’s comments, Muldavin said that Nogulich promised her full-time hours during the summer, when the club’s business typically declines. In the meantime, some current employees claim that Nogulich promised that student employees would leave for the summer, providing full-time hours to the non-student employees.

“We are full-time employees——they cut our hours, and gave them to the students,” said a black non-student employee.

Another non-student employee added, “When they hired the students, they made sure that they got their hours, which we usually don’t have-—not 80 hours [in two weeks] in the summertime.”

Muldavin said that lucrative positions, such as bartending, were given preferentially to white employees. “Whenever there were cash bars, they’d always have [two white employees] come in,” she said.

A black employee said, “They’d ask a student to work the cash bar, or they’d call someone in. They would not ask black employees to work the cash bar.” She added that employees receive a $50 cash bonus at the end of the night for working the cash bar.

Daniel and Muldavin claim that other policies were only enforced against black employees. Muldavin said she regularly violated the door policy, which requires employees to use the service entrance, except at night or during inclement weather.

“I’ve never had any problems going in the front door,” said a white student employee.

In contrast, said a non-student black employee, “We can’t go out the front door. [Nogulich has] had people go back out the door and all the way around.”

Katie Heupel, a fourth-year white student in the College who worked at the Quad Club’s front desk from October 2003 to spring 2005, recalled that she would often walk through the front door and was reprimanded once. “I guess the black employees rarely tried,” said Heupel.

Employees also complained that a policy prohibiting female employees from wearing braids was only enforced against black employees. Muldavin, who found the policy offensive, said she regularly wore braids to test the policy’s enforcement but never was reprimanded.

According to Rosen, employees are free to bring disagreements and complaints to the attention of their immediate supervisors or, failing that, to speak with Nogulich himself, who says he “maintains an open-door policy” and “is always available for discussion.” Rosen and Nogulich said they were unaware of Muldavin and Daniel’s complaints prior to being contacted by the Maroon.

“Most employees come and talk to me, and we resolve things,” said Nogulich.”Usually issues are resolved very quickly.”

Rosen added that the Board was satisfied with Nogulich’s performance as manager, although the Board does not deal with personnel issues.

Overall, student employees’ impressions of Nogulich vary.

“Nogulich talked down to the staff a lot,” said Heupel. “He always approached [employees] like they were dumb, but it was more pronounced with the people [working] upstairs” in the dining room and, she claims, black employees.

A former student employee, who declined to be named, disagreed: “I heard a lot of people complain, at various times, that Nogulich was unfair,” he said, “but I never once heard anyone call him racist.” However, he agreed that the door policy, which predates Nogulich’s term as manager, was “inconsistently enforced” and struck him as “somewhat racist.”

Leslie Kruempel, a third-year student who worked at the Quad Club this summer, said that a number of employees have complained about the management’s behavior.

“But I’ve found that these kind of complaints are common in work environments like this,” Kruempel said. “I had a unique perspective, in that I got to work in all parts of the club…Having the opportunity to work with everyone at the club, and in several roles, made it easier for me to be sympathetic to the actions of the management and my fellow employees, and so I didn’t feel that many of the complaints I heard were terribly credible.”

As for non-student employees, those interviewed say they are hoping for change.

“We have no problem with him hiring students,” said one such employee. “But we’re getting the short end of the stick.”

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