Erin M. Connell

Partner

San Francisco


Read full biography at www.orrick.com
Erin M. Connell, a San Francisco employment partner and Co-Chair of Orrick's EEO & OFCCP Compliance Group and Pay Equity Task Force, represents employers in high stakes employment litigation and is an expert in equal employment opportunity law, pay equity, and affirmative action (OFCCP) compliance.

Erin’s practice covers all aspects of employment law, as well as complex business litigation outside the employment context. Erin has successfully defended numerous class actions, EEOC systemic discrimination investigations, and complex individual cases involving claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and wage-and-hour claims. Erin has particular expertise in the area of pay equity, compensation analyses, and diversity initiatives; and regularly advises clients with respect to OFCCP and other EEO audits.

Erin also is an accomplished trial lawyer. She has tried several cases before juries and in arbitration, and has successfully has obtained numerous defense summary judgment rulings and other favorable resolutions in state and federal court.

Erin's clients include leading technology and Fortune 500 companies, including: Oracle, Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, Pinterest, NVIDIA, NetApp, Splunk, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Seagate Technology.

Erin is currently the management chair of the ABA Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, and frequently speaks on California and national employment law issues.  She has published numerous articles on employment law in publications around the country, including the ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law.  She also provides training on managing within the law and preventing sexual harassment, and conducts internal investigations on employment-related matters.

Posts by: Erin Connell

Six Bay Area Counties Issue Revised Shelter-In-Place Orders Requiring Essential Businesses to Develop and Post Social Distancing Protocols

On March 31, 2020, the six Bay Area counties that previously issued the nation’s first Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders, amended and extended their prior orders to include stricter controls aimed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The new orders, which are now in effect in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties (as well as the City of Berkeley) have a new end date of May 3, 2020 – a change from the prior end date of April 7, 2020. They also revise and narrow the scope of businesses deemed essential, and expressly require any employer with employees who are working on-site to develop a “Social Distancing Protocol” that must be posted in the form required by the orders. The new orders also acknowledge Governor Newsom’s statewide March 19, 2020 Executive Order N-33-20, but explain they are, “in certain respects more stringent” than the statewide order in order to address “the particular facts and circumstances” in the county and in the Bay Area. Accordingly, they explicitly state, “Where a conflict exists between this Order and any state public health order related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most restrictive provision controls.” READ MORE

COVID-19 Update: Update to California’s Executive Order N-33-20

As a follow-up to Executive Order N-33-20, on March 20, Governor Newsom’s office released a 14-page report which provides additional guidance regarding “essential business operations” in California.  Originally, the Governor’s Executive Order directed California workers to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) website to determine whether they qualify as essential to one of 16 federal critical infrastructure sectors.  The 14-page report narrows “essential business operations” to workers in 13 sectors: (1) Healthcare/Public Health, (2) Emergency Services; (3) Food and Agriculture, (4) Energy, (5) Water and Wastewater, (6) Transportation and Logistics, (7) Communications and Information Technology (8) Other Community-Based Government Operations and Essential Functions, (9) Critical Manufacturing, (10) Hazardous Materials, (11) Financial Services, (12) Chemical, (13) and Defense Industrial Base. READ MORE

COVID-19 Update: California Governor Orders 40 Million Californians to Stay Home

On the evening of March 19, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newson issued Executive Order N-33-20, which requires all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence except “as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors,” as outlined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). This order, which applies to 40 million California residents, is intended to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In issuing the Order, Governor Newsom suggested that 56 percent of Californians (more than 25 million people) could be infected over the next eight weeks. Although the Order states it is to go into effect immediately and shall stay in effect until further notice, Governor Newsom also emphasized this is “not a permanent state.” READ MORE

Ninth Circuit Issues A Second En Banc Decision Regarding Prior Salary Considerations In Rizo v. Yovino Re-Do

In yet another development in the closely watched case of Rizo v. Yovino, the en banc Ninth Circuit ruled that employers may not defeat a plaintiff’s prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) by arguing prior pay is a “factor other than sex” within the meaning of the statute. By doing so, the Ninth Circuit reaches the same result as the previous opinion penned by the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt before his passing in 2018, including overruling Kouba v. Allstate, a prior Ninth Circuit opinion that held that prior pay could justify pay differentials in combination with other factors, and if relied upon reasonably and to effectuate a business policy. The majority opinion further holds that as a matter of statutory interpretation, a “factor other than sex” within the meaning of the EPA must be “job related,” yet it also makes clear that the EPA does not prohibit employers from considering prior pay in making starting pay offers (and in this regard differentiates the opinion from California’s salary history ban). Two separate concurring opinions agree with the result, but they criticize the majority opinion for giving too narrow a reading of the EPA’s fourth “catch all” defense and for embracing a view of prior pay that puts the Ninth Circuit at odds with other circuits and guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). READ MORE

The Saga Continues: EEO-1 Pay Data Collection Extended Again

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled that the EEOC may not discontinue its pay data collection efforts on November 11, 2019, but rather, must continue its collection efforts until it has collected from at least 98.3% of eligible reporters and must make all efforts to do so by January 31, 2020.  The ruling is the latest in a lengthy saga regarding whether EEO-1 Component 2 pay data (data on employees’ W-2 earnings and hours worked across broad job categories, and broken down by ethnicity, race, and sex) would be collected—a saga that began with the Office of Management and Budget staying collection efforts, and culminated last Spring when Judge Chutkan ruled the decision to stay the collection lacked the reasoned explanation required by the Administrative Procedure Act (see overview here).  After vacating the stay, Judge Chutkan initially set the deadline for data collection for May 31, 2019, but later extended it to September 30, 2019. READ MORE

District Court Orders Employers to Submit Component 2 Data by September 30, 2019

The EEOC has been ordered to collect employers’ EEO-1 Component 2 pay data by September 30, 2019.  The D.C. District Court issued the order after finding back in March 2019 that Office of Management and Budget (OMB’s) decision to stay the collection of Component 2 pay data lacked the reasoned explanation required by the Administrative Procedure Act.  See our prior blog posts here, here, and here about National Women’s Law Center v. Office of Management and Budget, No. 17-cv-2458 (TSC) (D.D.C.).  Since then the court has been critical of the EEOC’s compliance with its order, and held a status conference and a hearing in March and April. READ MORE

EEOC’s Revised Pay Data Collection Rule is Back in Force

Uncertainty continues for the EEOC’s attempt to expand the collection of employers’ pay data. Last Monday, the D.C. District Court in National Women’s Law Center v. Office of Management and Budget, No. 17-cv-2458 (TSC) (D.D.C. Mar. 4, 2019), reinstated the EEOC’s revised EEO-1 form that increases employers’ obligation to collect and submit pay data. READ MORE

Say It Again: No Common Question Binds a Class Subject to Thousands of Individualized Pay Decisions

Echoing an increasingly familiar refrain, another district court has declined to certify a class of women bringing pay equity claims on the basis that they did not present a common question capable of producing a common answer to “the crucial question why was I disfavored.” Relying largely upon Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the court found certification inappropriate because the putative class members were subject to countless independent decisions involving the judgment and discretion of individual managers. The case also serves as another reminder that courts (including California state courts) will not accept an overly simplistic analysis comparing broad job categories or titles, but will continue to look at actual business practices and job responsibilities to ensure comparators are “similarly situated” so a meaningful pay comparison can be made. READ MORE

Cert Denied in Potential Harbinger for California Equal Pay Act Class Actions

On August 28, 2018, a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court issued one of the first decisions – if not the first decision – on a motion to certify a putative class action under the state’s revised Equal Pay Act, Cal. Labor Code § 1197.5 (“EPA”).  See Bridewell-Sledge, et al. v. Blue Cross of California, No. BC477451 (Los Angeles Sup. Ct. Aug. 28, 2018) (Court’s Ruling and Order re: Pls.’ Mot. for Class Certification).  Specifically, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to certify classes of all female and all African American non-exempt employees of Anthem Blue Cross California and related entities.  The complaint alleged both violations of the EPA, as well as discrimination in promotions and pay in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Cal. Gov. Code §12900 et. seq.).[1]

Expert testimony played a key role in the briefing and the court’s decision.  Plaintiffs attempted to use statistical evidence to establish there were common questions about the legality of pay and promotion decisions, and argued the claims were amenable to classwide treatment and common proof.  The court allowed Plaintiffs a second round of briefing after concluding they did not receive education, training, and performance-related data for their initial expert to include in his analysis.  In the supplemental round of briefing, however, Plaintiffs tendered a different expert who chose not to make use of the acquired data.

The trial court concluded that neither of Plaintiffs’ experts had appropriately grouped together similarly situated individuals across the entire putative classes.  A plaintiff does not state even a prima facie case of an EPA violation unless she can show that she was paid less than another employee of a different gender, race, or ethnicity for “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”  Cal. Labor Code §§ 1197.5(a) (gender), (b) (race or ethnicity).  The court found that Plaintiffs failed to furnish evidence that could make that showing across the entire class.

Plaintiffs’ experts grouped individuals by EEO job group, which assigned Anthem’s greatly varied jobs into only 10 categories, with over 80% of individuals falling into just one EEO job group (office and clerical).  The EEOC web site itself describes this category broadly to include office and clerical work regardless of level of difficulty.  Both experts also ignored Anthem’s grouping of jobs into job families, which clustered jobs by function and responsibility and greatly narrowed the breadth of the groups.

The Court found Plaintiffs’ statistical models thus crucially rested on faulty assumptions by assuming those who shared an EEO job group were comparable.  To demonstrate, the court pointed to various Anthem jobs, vastly different in nature, which shared the same EEO job group.  For example, dental services analysists and office clerks were in the same EEO job group even though Anthem required dental services analysts to have a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience, while Anthem only required a high school diploma (and no prior experience) of office clerks.  The court also looked to market trends as evidence of the different pay typical of these vastly different positions, noting that market research data indicated that nationwide median pay was $47,900 for dental analysts but only $28,200 for clerks.  As another example, a nurse practitioner and accounting operations manager, earning $93,000 and $166,400 at Anthem, respectively, shared the same EEO job group and were treated as similarly situated in Plaintiffs’ models, even though one worked in the finance department and the other in the physicians’ and nurses’ department.  The court found the expert models did not properly analyze pay rates of putative class members and juxtapose those against employees who performed substantially similar work.  Thus, the court concluded it could not rely on Plaintiffs’ models to assess violations on a classwide basis but would instead have to make individualized inquires as to who were truly comparators under the EPA.

Aside from the problematic reliance on EEO groupings, the court also faulted Plaintiffs’ second expert on two additional grounds.  First, he only measured tenure by time at the company, rather than time in a position.  As Defendant’s expert pointed out, time in position is a more relevant tenure-related variable, because one would expect salary to increase over time in a position as the employee gained experience in that role.  Time in position was a statistically significant variable related to compensation in 7 of 10 years.  Conversely, Plaintiffs’ model measuring tenure by time since hire did not accurately capture one’s experience in a specific position, but instead conflated various positions held and ignored decreases that may have resulted from position changes. The court also found that Plaintiffs’ expert erred by including physician advisors earning over $180,000 in his model.  By contrast, Defendant’s expert deemed these individuals as outliers because their earnings were so vastly different from other non-exempt employees.  The Court found the exclusion of “time in position” and inclusion of physician advisors further evidenced that Plaintiffs’ experts’ “methodology would not provide a reasonable basis for his conclusion that racial discrimination exists at Blue Cross.”

Even ignoring the reliability problems, the court noted that Plaintiffs’ final statistical model showed no pattern of underpayment of women and no statistically significant disparity for five of the eleven years of the class period.  Defendant’s statistical model, on the other hand, controlling for Anthem job family to reflect similarly situated positions based on actual jobs, showed that there were no statistically significant disparities for 10 of the 11 years of the class period.  The court noted that Plaintiffs’ models—particularly when juxtaposed with Defendant’s more refined analysis—highlighted “the inherent problem in treating [the] case as a class action” because the evidence showed “individual [Anthem] job titles within [an EEO] Job Group can be vastly different.”  The court explained the upshot was that it would have to conduct highly individualized assessments of each member of the putative class to determine liability, and that Plaintiffs’ statistical models did nothing to cure the problem.

Significantly, the court noted that Plaintiffs failed to identify a single uniform policy that dictated pay and promotion decisions across the putative class.  The court noted that this failure further undermined the idea that there was any predominant common question amenable to common proof, related to whether Blue Cross had a policy of discriminating in pay and promotions.  In contrast, Blue Cross put forth evidence that it used race- and gender-neutral factors to develop its pay structure, including using market surveys to determine the median pay rates for its specific jobs and adjusting pay per geographic location.  The company also put forth evidence that managers had discretion to make individualized determinations when making pay decisions by considering the labor budget and pay equity among employees as well as the employee’s contributions, experience, and performance.  Plaintiffs’ failure to identify a specific employment practice in the face of Defendant’s evidence of race-and gender-neutral pay-setting policies, in the court’s view, underscored that the equal pay inquiry was highly individualized, and thus even a reliable regression model “would not be sufficient for a finding of predominance.”  Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the Court noted that statistics alone are “insufficient to establish [Plaintiffs’] discrimination theory can be proved on a classwide basis.”

This case serves as a reminder that even under California’s EPA, one of the nation’s most employee-friendly equal pay statutes, plaintiffs cannot skirt the requirement that comparators must perform substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions, and that poorly-constructed statistics are insufficient on their own to furnish common, classwide proof of discrimination.  Orrick will be tracking developments in this and other EPA cases and putative class actions.

[1] Plaintiffs also alleged unfair business practices violations (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et. seq.).

Change of Course? OFCCP Issues Long-Awaited Revised Compensation Guidelines

In a highly anticipated move, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued its new compensation directive on August 24, 2018. Directive (DIR) 2018-05, Analysis of Contractor Compensation Practices During a Compliance Evaluation, replaces the Obama-era compensation guidance DIR 2013-03, Procedures for Reviewing Contractor Compensation Systems and Practices (referred to as Directive 307). OFCCP also included a list of 22 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with DIR 2018-05. READ MORE