A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Wednesday that the Norwegian government violated Minnesota's discrimination and equal-pay laws by paying a female former employee $30,000 less than a male employee, though their jobs were comparable.

U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson also ordered Norway to pay Ellen Ewald $170,594, which is double her lost wages, and $100,000 for emotional distress suffered after she unsuccessfully fought to get her salary raised.

Nelson also ruled that Norway must pay $1,000 to Minnesota's general fund for violating the state's Human Rights Act.

"I'm thrilled that the judge ruled that everybody big or small has to comply with the law; even foreign countries have to pay equal pay for equal work," said Ewald's lead attorney, Sheila Engelmeier.

The biggest financial cost to the Norwegian government, however, may be yet to come.

Nelson said Ewald's attorneys now should submit their legal fees, including a calculation for prejudgment interest.

Engelmeier said fees for Ewald's legal team, which included four lawyers, will come close to $2 million. The price ran that high, she said, because of "the time we were forced to spend because Norway fought us at every juncture and refused to do the right thing."

In a 12-day trial in April and May, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former head of the consulate, found himself caught in the middle as a representative of the Norwegian government, yet called to testify by Ewald's lawyers.

He found himself defending the initial lower pay that Ewald received for a job that he said was not comparable to her male counterpart's. But he also testified that after Ewald learned of the disparity and protested, he and another consulate official urged Norway to rectify the problem.

"To his credit," Nelson wrote in her 191-page decision, "Vice President Mondale, along with Honorary Consul [Gary] Gandrud, attempted to bring this issue to the attention of the [Norwegian] embassy in their letter to the Ambassador describing the pay differential as 'unjust and embarrassing.' "

"It was also unlawful," Nelson continued. "Unfortunately, the pay differential was never corrected, and this lawsuit followed."

On Wednesday evening, Ewald said she always believed she would win her case.

"I am happy," she said. "I hope this can help other women who still experience discrimination in the workplace."

Since leaving the consulate, Ewald, who lives in Minneapolis, has been a partner in Tysvar, a firm that helps Norwegian companies get established in the Midwest.

Ripples overseas

Norway has had a diplomatic presence in Minnesota since 1906; the state is home to nearly 900,000 people of Norwegian descent.

The roots of the dispute go back to 2007, when Norway announced it was closing its "career consulate" in Minneapolis for budgetary reasons. After a public outcry, it decided to create a "New Model Consulate" that was to have two new experts, one focused on innovations and business development, the other on higher education and research.

Ewald, a Twin Cities native who spent many years in Norway, took the educational post, while Anders Davidson, planning and business development manager for 3M Company's international operation, took the business post.

In the lawsuit, Ewald said she thought the money for the two positions would be split evenly between the two. She complained when she found out that Davidson was making $100,000 to her $70,000. Her three-year contract was not renewed in 2011.

The suit was heard before a judge rather than a jury, so Nelson's lengthy decision involved findings of fact as well as the decision.

She found that both Ewald and Davidson's positions were "two sides of the same coin."

Norway had argued that there were material differences in their responsibilities that required the embassy to pay Davidson more; Nelson disagreed.

"There was no competent evidence presented at trial that one job required greater skill, effort and responsibility than the other," the judge wrote. "Rather, the evidence demonstrated that the jobs were substantially equal.

Nelson ruled that Norway's government violated Minnesota's Equal Pay Act as well as the state's Human Rights Act on the subject of equal pay.

However, she tossed out one claim by Ewald's attorneys that Norway had violated a state law making it illegal for an employer to knowingly mislead someone to induce them to take a job.

Nelson's decision is likely to cause ripples in Norway, where the case has drawn major news media attention.

Nelson's decision was posted on a federal court website shortly before 6 p.m. Attempts to reach Norway's attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels in Minneapolis on Wednesday night were unsuccessful.

Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Hamline University, who has taught law courses at the University of Oslo in Norway, has followed the Ewald case. He said he does not know whether the Norwegian government will appeal.

"There may be pressures by the women of Norway to resolve this case and pay her," he said. "The most liberal and free women in the world are in Norway. Equality is important in Norway."

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

Twitter: @randyfurst