Business Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Review Ninth Circuit Decision Rejecting Use of Prior Salary to Set Pay

In the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rizo v. Yovino, key employer-side groups have expressed support for U.S. Supreme Court review to determine whether employers who rely on prior salary to set starting pay can continue to do so consistent with the federal Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) (“EPA”).

The EPA prohibits sex-based wage differentials between men and women who perform equal work, but allows employers to justify wage differentials even between such employees based on seniority, merit, production, or “any other factor other than sex.” The Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc decision in Rizo held that “prior salary alone or in combination with other factors cannot justify a wage differential” because prior salary is not a “factor other than sex.”  887 F.3d 453, 456 (9th Cir. 2018). The Ninth Circuit reasoned that a “factor other than sex” must be “job-related,” and thus rejected the defendant employer’s exclusive reliance on prior salary as a benchmark against which to set starting pay for new hires. The Court, however, left open the possibility that prior salary could permissibly “play a role in the course of an individualized salary negotiation.” Id. at 461. (For a comprehensive analysis of the Rizo decision, see Can Prior Pay Inform a New Hire’s Salary? (Daily Journal, May 11, 2018)).

On August 30, 2018, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, Jim Yovino, filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rizo. The petition argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant review because the Circuit Courts of Appeal diverge on whether prior salary is a “factor other than sex” (see, e.g., Wernsing v. Dep’t of Human Servs., State of Illinois, 427 F.3d 466, 469 (7th Cir. 2005)) and because prior salary is a “factor other than sex” under a plain reading of the EPA.

Since Yovino’s petition for writ of certiorari, several business groups have filed amici curiae briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case. The Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America (Chamber) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently filed a brief for amici curiae in support of Yovino. The Chamber is the world’s largest business federation, representing the interests of 300,000 members and over three million companies and professional organizations. SHRM is the world’s largest human resources professional society, representing 300,000 members in more than 165 countries. Representing strong business interests, the amici brief asserts that the question of whether employers can rely on prior salary history in setting workers’ wages “is of extraordinary significance.” The amici brief argues that the Rizo decision deepens a circuit split on the legality of the widely-used and useful employment practice of relying on prior salary, which is legal in most jurisdictions and is a facially sex-neutral practice. The Chamber and SHRM also argue that the Ninth Circuit’s “tortured reading of the EPA’s catchall defense” could be read to call into question other legitimate and sex-neutral practices that rely on objective information, such as individualized negotiations and competitive salary bidding.

The Center for Workplace Compliance (CWC) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center also filed a brief for amici curiae in support of Yovino’s petition. The CWC, whose membership includes 240 major U.S. corporations, is the nation’s largest nonprofit association of employers dedicated exclusively to ensuring compliance with fair employment and other workplace requirements. The NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices across the country. The CWC and NFIB argue that the “Ninth Circuit’s decision [] rests on a legally flawed premise—that an employer has an affirmative obligation under the EPA to eliminate disparities in pay, even when those disparities are caused by gender-neutral compensation policies.” The amici brief asserts that review of the Rizo decision is necessary to “resolve issues of substantial importance to the employer community,” and that permitting the decision to stand “will have a profound, largely negative, impact on employers nationwide.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely issue a decision on the petition for writ of certiorari later this year. Until then, it remains unclear whether Rizo will remain the guiding precedent in the Ninth Circuit. For employers operating in California, Rizo may not prompt significant changes given that the California Equal Pay Act separately provides that “prior salary shall not, by itself, justify any disparity in compensation.” But employers elsewhere in the Ninth Circuit will need to evaluate their pay practices in light of Rizo unless and until it is overruled. Experienced counsel can assist employers in navigating these complex issues.

I Can See Clearly Now: The OFCCP’s Latest Directives Seek to Increase Transparency

For the second month in a row, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has issued guidance to update materials available to federal contractors and subcontractors. On September 19, 2018, the OFCCP issued two broad directives aimed at improving transparency and communications and to implement the highly-anticipated ombud service. These directives respond to contractor complaints related to the length and process for OFCCP audits. READ MORE

Is it Safe to Wade into the “Safe Harbor” Waters in Recent Pay Laws?

A growing number of state and local governments have passed equal pay laws in recent years. These statutes and ordinances have varied in their specific content and have created a patchwork of legal requirements vexing employers who are attempting to comply. Two states have added wrinkles to this patchwork. While many of the obligations have favored employees, Massachusetts and Oregon have attempted to tip the scales to employers by creating “safe harbor” provisions aimed at providing some form of relief for employers who perform voluntary pay audits and correct any adverse findings through “safe harbor” provisions. These provisions, however, raise significant questions that employers must consider before concluding that they are fully protected. 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]

READ MORE

Hitting Home: Law Firms are Now the Target of a Spate of New Pay Equity Cases

Big Law is no stranger to providing advice on pay equity or defending pay equity lawsuits. But until recently, headlines generally featured lawsuits challenging the compensation practices of their clients, not the law firms that represented them.

In the last two years, however, Big Law has itself moved into the spotlight with a wave of pay equity suits brought by aggrieved female partners and, in some cases, female associates. To date, the number of these suits against Big Law—either pending or concluded with multi-million-dollar settlements—has reached double digits and shows no signs of slowing down. We think the details are worth a second look—particularly in light of the complicated dynamics at play in how law firm partner compensation is set. READ MORE

Employer Alert: California Pay Equity Task Force Issues Guidance on Fair Pay Act

The California Pay Equity Task Force recently published guidance and approved resources for employer compliance with the state’s equal-pay laws. As we continue to track developments in this arena and await further interpretation from the courts, employers should be aware of this comprehensive and illustrative guidance in reviewing their hiring and compensation practices. READ MORE

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

NYS Advances its #MeToo Agenda: Draft Sexual Harassment Guidance Released

Late last week and in anticipation of the October 9, 2018 deadline for compliance with the statewide sexual harassment prevention mandate (the “Mandate”), New York Labor Law § 201-g, New York State released a model policy, complaint form, and training module.  The materials are still in draft form and the State is accepting public comments through September 12, meaning these documents are subject to change.  The model policy, complaint form, training module, and FAQs are available here.  Several portions of the sample documents exceed the Mandate’s minimum requirements, and some directly conflict with the position of other agencies.

READ MORE

The Coast is Clear: California Bill That Would Mandate Pay Data Reporting Dies in Committee

This summer, California pay data reporting bill SB 1284 appeared to be progressing quickly through the legislature, until it was tabled by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 16, 2018.  The bill, which we reported on earlier this year, would have required employers with 100 or more employees to annually report pay data from employees’ W-2 forms for specified job types and pay bands, broken down by sex, race, and ethnicity.  The bill passed the Senate, and was working its way through the Assembly, where it was amended earlier this month.  READ MORE

OFCCP Director’s Departure Should Not Change Agency’s Priorities

OFCCP recently lost Trump-appointed Director Ondray Harris due to his resignation. Deputy Director Craig Leen takes Harris’s place in the interim. Harris’s departure raises some important questions that covered federal contractors may be asking.

What was Harris able to accomplish during his short tenure?  During Harris’s time at the Agency, there were few policy developments. The Agency extended the moratorium on audits for many health care providers who offer medical coverage under the military’s TRICARE program. In addition, the Agency made good on its promise to provide contractors with additional transparency by (1) publishing its scheduling methodology; and (2) releasing a guidance document titled “What Contractors Can Expect” that stresses good behavior by the Agency and its staff. READ MORE