Court Finds That Different Responsibility Levels In Similar Jobs Preclude A Finding Of An Equal Pay Violation

by Ruth Horvatich
(402) 341-3070

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently, in an unpublished decision, concluded that a female fine arts teacher failed to prove that a male, who she alleged held the same job position, was paid more in violation of the federal Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiff oversaw fine-arts programming at the elementary-school level. When the school district ran into budget difficulties and lost a grant, it cut her pay. She then sued, alleging that her pay was lower than a male fine arts teacher. The Court pointed out that to prevail, the plaintiff had to convince the Court that the male teacher’s work was “substantially equal” to her own. The Court noted that such a consideration requires that it examines all the facts and circumstances of the case including the level of experience, training, education, ability, effort, and responsibility associated with each job. The male colleague testified that he was the overall director of the program, including both secondary and elementary fine arts, while the plaintiff coordinated only elementary fine arts. The testimony during trial supported the conclusion that the secondary level arts curriculum was more demanding than its elementary level counterpart because of different course offerings, advance placement courses, and after school programs. It also found that the male teacher was the director of the fine arts program and noted that a position’s extra “supervisory duties” can distinguish it from a position with lesser “supervisory duties.”

Although this decision involved a fairly isolated allegation, the Court’s description of the factors it would examine to determine whether positions occupied by a male and a female were “substantially the same” are worthy of review. Employers with similar job positions, in which female employees are compensated at a lower level than male employees, must analyze each of those job positions to determine whether the work is substantially equal in light of the factors described by the Eighth Circuit. Where no such distinctions between the jobs are found to exist, employers must be aware of its potential exposure under the Equal Pay Act and take stock of the related remedies such as backpay, liquidated damages, and the payment of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees if the plaintiff brings an action and is successful.

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