Former Vice President Walter Mondale testified in U.S. District Court in St. Paul Thursday, defending his decision to pay a woman $30,000 less than a man at the Norwegian Consulate in Minnesota, when he was honorary consul general.
In a civil trial that entered its fourth day, Mondale insisted the jobs were not comparable and the wage discrepancy was not due to gender, even though he later cowrote a strongly worded letter to the Norwegian ambassador in an unsuccessful effort to get the woman’s wages raised.
The woman, Ellen Ewald, 55, is suing Norway, claiming gender discrimination. She was paid $70,000 a year when she worked for the revamped consulate from 2009 to 2011, responsible for building stronger educational ties between Norway and Minnesota.
Anders Davidson was hired at the same time at $100,000 per year to develop better relationships between Norwegian and Minnesota businesses.
Ewald’s three-year position was not renewed in 2011.
Mondale, a former U.S. senator, vice president and ambassador to Japan, developed a reputation as a strong advocate of gender equity. He chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1984. Ferraro was the first woman to run as vice president for a major U.S. party.
Mondale, honorary consul general here from 2008 to 2010, carried policymaking authority. He testified that Ewald was the “perfect” hire and “exactly what we were looking for.”
Ewald has said she was told by Gary Gandrud, the honorary consul/operational director, that she’d receive the same pay as Davidson.
Joel Schroeder, an attorney for Norway, said in his opening statement Monday that Gandrud did not promise equal pay.
Mondale testified that Davidson was originally offered $60,000, which Mondale felt was too low. When he learned that Davidson was being paid $108,000 by 3M Co. work only part time at the $60,000 rate, Mondale and a hiring committee approved a salary of $100,000.
Mondale said Thursday that he didn’t know that Ewald earned $150,000 in her previous job.
After learning of Ewald’s unhappiness about the difference, Mondale testified that he and Gandrud cosigned a letter seeking a raise for her in which they called the pay differential “unjust and embarrassing.”
Mondale testified for about three hours Thursday. During the lunch break, he was asked whether it was a contradiction to say that the pay offer to Ewald was a fair one, while in the letter he called the discrepancy unjust and embarrassing. He said the use of those words was “charged language,” meant to get the attention of the Norwegian authorities.
“We were trying to get a pay adjustment,” said Mondale, who added that he thought the original pay offer “was OK.”
Sheila Engelmeier, one of Ewald’s attorneys, says Ewald is suing for $1.5 million plus $1.5 million in legal fees.
The trial is expected to continue for another week. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will issue a written decision later.