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Pay Equity Matters: Mind the Gap

A federal court in Maryland recently found that Baltimore City’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, the City’s public library system, violated federal pay equity law and is thus liable for more than $190,000 in backpay and liquidated damages. In United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Enoch Pratt Free Library, et al., the court concluded that the Library and two related defendants violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA) when it paid five female librarians less than a male librarian. The court’s December 23 decision found that the female librarians performed the same core duties as their male colleague, and rejected the defendants’ arguments that the library branches where the female librarians worked accounted for differences in duties sufficient to warrant paying the female employees less. The court further found that the Library failed to follow internal Human Resources guidance instructing city agencies to avoid “internal equity issues” when setting salaries for any new employees within a position’s salary range.  What can employers across the country learn from this case?

Continuing its recent string of settlements in the pay bias claims arena, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that Deloitte Services LP will pay $275,000 in back wages and interest to a group of 34 female technology services employees as part of a settlement of alleged wage discrimination. According to the Labor Department’s November 5 press release, the settlement also requires Deloitte to provide training to its managers overseeing compensation decisions in Tennessee and Georgia.

JPMorgan Chase recently signed a conciliation agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) agreeing to settle a long-running pay equity enforcement action alleging that it underpaid some of its female employees. Key provisions of the November 2 agreement require JPMorgan to pay $800,00 in back pay and interest to affected female employees, to conduct an annual pay equity analysis of its U.S. employees for the next five years, and to allocate $9,000,000 during the five-year period for pay adjustments for women and minorities to address pay equity.

The EEOC recently sued Dell, Inc. for alleged violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination in compensation on the basis of sex. According to the EEOC’s Complaint, Dell retained an IT analyst from a company it acquired, but paid her less than a male counterpart performing work requiring substantially the same skill, effort and responsibility. This case serves as a reminder to employers to be vigilant about pay equity when retaining new employees as part of a corporate acquisition or otherwise.

Former Pinterest Chief Operating Officer and top ranking female executive Françoise Brougher just filed a 17-page complaint in San Francisco Superior Court against Pinterest alleging a toxic work environment that allowed female executives to be excluded and silenced, which she claims led to her own termination. The August 11 complaint alleges claims of gender discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Labor Code.

The Women’s National Basketball Association and the union representing its players recently agreed to tentative terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, which will revamp players’ salary and benefits this season and apply through 2027. While the tentative terms of the CBA leave room for improvement when compared to the opportunities for wages and benefits of NBA players, the components of the new compensation structure for WNBA players announced on January 14 demonstrates the league’s acknowledgement of the needs of working mothers. It also displays encouraging progress in the fight for pay equity.

A federal appeals court just ruled that workers don’t need to clear a heightened legal standard in order to pursue pay equity claims, setting the stage for a possible increase in the number of lawsuits seeking recovery for alleged unfair wages in 2020 and beyond. The analysis applied by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ December 6 decision in Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc. could be applied by other courts across the country, creating a new outlet for workers to claim pay bias.

In an announcement sure to please federal contractors, the OFCCP announced Friday that it would not use any of the pay data gathered by the EEOC in this year’s expanded collection efforts for enforcement purposes. The November 22 release is just the latest example of the federal government’s taking active steps to diminish the pay data collection requirements forced on the administration following a surprise court ruling in March.

Employers may have to prepare for an entirely new pay data reporting requirement to be revealed in the new year, but you can expect that any such proposal would not be as cumbersome or invasive as the current system. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced yesterday during the release of the Fall Regulatory Agenda that it is considering initiating a rulemaking process that “may include a new reporting requirement by which employers would submit pay data or related information as reasonable, necessary, or appropriate for the enforcement and the Equal Pay Act.” But all signals point to this next version of pay data collection – which could be revealed in September 2020 – being more palatable to employers.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently introduced a bill that would amend the commonwealth’s Equal Pay Law by requiring employers to provide pay transparency to applicants and employees alike, bringing Pennsylvania to the forefront of the pay equity discussion. While the measure has a long way before becoming law, it is well worth keeping an eye on this development – not only those with business in Pennsylvania, but those across the country who may find that their local jurisdiction might one day follow its lead.

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