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
On February 6, 2020 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a Philadelphia pay equity ordinance banning employers from inquiring into prospective employees’ prior pay or relying on prior pay in making compensation decisions unless candidates knowingly and willingly disclose the information. In upholding the ordinance, the Third Circuit vacated a lower court decision that enjoined enforcement of the inquiry provision on the grounds that it violated employers’ First Amendment free speech rights. While the Third Circuit acknowledged that the ordinance implicated First Amendment rights, the court found that there was “a plethora of evidence” provided by the city to meet its burden of clearing intermediate scrutiny for commercial speech. Consequently, it was reasonable for the city to conclude that the inquiry provision would address gender and race-based wage gaps based on experiments, witness testimony, and historical research concluding as much. READ MORE
In April 2018, an en banc Ninth Circuit held in Rizo v. Yovino that an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees under the Equal Pay Act by relying on prior salary. Before the Ninth Circuit published its decision, though, Judge Stephen Reinhardt passed away. On February 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, reasoning that the appellate court should not have counted Reinhardt’s vote because he passed away before the decision was issued. Instead, the Ninth Circuit should not have released the opinion. READ MORE
As schools across the country prepare for summer break, the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court decision against the Fresno County public school district which had found that its pay practices were unlawful. Notably, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may rely on prior salary as an affirmative defense to claims under the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) if “it show[s] that the factor ‘effectuate[s] some business policy’ and that the employer ‘use[s] the factor reasonably in light of the employer’s stated purpose as well as other practices.’” READ MORE
A few months ago, the California State Assembly introduced AB 1676, a bill that not only would have prohibited employers from asking job applicants about their compensation history, but also would have required employers to provide pay scale information upon reasonable request. A nearly identical bill passed through the Assembly and Senate before it was vetoed by the Governor toward the end of last year. In his veto statement, the Governor expressed concern that such a measure “broadly prohibits employers from obtaining relevant information with little evidence that [it] would assure more equitable wages.”
As we previously reported, the Fair Pay Act (the “FPA,” Labor Code § 1197.5) requires “equal pay for substantially similar work” based on the employee’s skill, effort and responsibility, and similar working conditions. To the extent a disparity exists between employees of the opposite sex, it must be reasonably based on one or more the factors enumerated within the statute.
Perhaps hoping to avoid repeating history, proponents of AB 1676 have taken a new approach. In place of the provision prohibiting inquiries about prior salary history is new language that amends the FPA to state that “[p]rior salary shall not, by itself, justify any disparity in compensation.”