Big Win on the Equal Pay Front

Big Win on the Equal Pay Front

Boost For Equal Pay

In February, people pursuing equal pay claims got a big boost from the Ninth Circuit.

The Equal Pay Act was passed to combat pay differences between members of the opposite sex.  Though it applies to Under the act, an employer has several affirmative defenses it can rely on to justify a pay disparity. These include a difference in pay based in (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a pay system based on quantity or quality of output, or (4) any factor other than sex.

This law affirmative defense generates the most litigation by far.  And, the issue the Ninth Circuit looked as was whether a woman’s prior salary at an earlier employer can be a “factor other than sex” that allows an employer to pay a woman less than male employees who perform the same work.

This case is Rizo v. Yovino and it has been a long time in the making.  Rizo originally filed her lawsuit in 2014.  Rizo learned she was paid less than her male peer.  Her employer defended the pay disparity, which was based solely on her prior salary at an earlier job, as a “factor other than sex.”

After a trip to the Supreme Court and back, an en banc Ninth Circuit definitively held that an employer cannot cite a woman’s prior salary as a “factor other than sex” to justify paying a woman less than her male peers doing the same work.

As the Ninth Circuit noted, because equal pay disparities are so pervasive, allowing an employee to escape liability by relying on prior pay would simply perpetuate the very discrimination that the Equal Pay Act was passed to eliminate.

This is a huge win for anyone trying to pursue an equal pay claim as employers rarely have a good reason to justify a pay disparity.  An equal pay case does not require proof of a discriminatory intent.  Instead, all that is required is evidence that one gender is paid less than the opposite gender for doing the same work.  When that is shown, the employer must show it some job related basis for that difference. And, now that job related factor must be something other than a showing that the employer had a lower salary in an earlier job and thus deserved a lower salary in the current job.

 Getting Help

If you believe you have been the victim of pay discrimination, please contact my firm to see if we can assist you. Click the Tell Us About Your Problem button to start.

Cases to Watch in 2020

Cases to Watch in 2020

Cases to Watch in 2020 

Get prepared for some big developments in employment law in 2020.  One key case should answer a longstanding  question about whether Title VII protects a person from discrimination because of sexual orientation.  The other key case may lead to real and systemic change in equal pay.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination 

A trio of cases pending at the United State Supreme Court considers the issue of whether sexual orientation is a protected category under Title VII.  

Title VII outlawed discrimination “because of” sex.  What does that mean?  If a person is gay or lesbian and is discriminated against at work, is that “because of” sex?  In the past, most courts said no— sexual orientation was not protected under Title VII.  So, an employee fired for being gay or lesbian had no legal claim he or she could pursue. 

In recent years, some cases eroded those legal holdings. And, last year, 3 of those cases went to the Supreme Court.  Now, the Supreme Court will make the final decision on this issue.  We should get an opinion out of the Supreme Court on this issue before the end of June.

Right now, there really is no way to predict which way the court will go on this issue.  However, if the Court finds that sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII, the next stop in this legal battle will likely be Congress. If the Supreme Court finds that sexual orientation is not covered by the law, it is likely that Congress will be lobbied to change the law.

Equal Pay  

In 2019, the USA women’s soccer team cleaned up at the World Cup.  Notwithstanding their stellar success, the women were still paid significantly less than the far less successful male soccer team.  In a case that has gotten much publicity, the women sued for pay discrimination.  The women brought claims under both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act for the pay difference. 

In November, the women got a big victory when the court certified the lawsuit as a class action for the Title VII claim.  The lawsuit also got certified as a “collective action” on the Equal Pay Claim.  This was vigorously opposed, so getting this relief from the court is a big win for the women’s team members. 

And, the court set this case for trial in May 2020.  That means that we do not have to wait too long to see whether this case will actually go to trial or whether the parties reach some agreement. 

This case has been so important because the publicity it received has really stirred a dialog about equal pay issues and caused many people to start actively thinking about pay discrimination.  No matter what happens with the women’s soccer team, that conversation is certainly going to continue.

Stay Tuned!