The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) and its many state analogs require equal pay for equal (or, in some states, “substantially similar”) work. The EPA contains a so-called “catch-all” defense to equal pay claims, permitting wage differentials if employers can show that they are “based on any factor other than [protected category].” But this catch-all defense has been under scrutiny in courts and legislatures around the country. As we recently reported, an en banc Ninth Circuit rejected an employer’s argument that sole reliance on prior pay could be a “factor other than sex” within the meaning of the EPA. The Ninth Circuit’s finding is an outlier among circuit courts in this respect, but it fits a broader trend to narrow the “catch-all” affirmative defense, particularly at the state level. READ MORE
Kathryn (Katie) Grzenczyk Mantoan is Of Counsel in Orrick's Employment Law & Litigation group, working across the San Francisco and Portland offices. She focuses on high-stakes employment litigation, compliance counseling, and litigation avoidance measures. Her practice has a particular emphasis on complex class actions and developing areas of the law including pay equity, and she co-chairs Orrick's Pay Equity Task Force.
Katie received California Lawyer’s Attorney of the Year Award in 2016 and was named a Northern California Super Lawyers Rising Star for seven consecutive years. She regularly writes and publishes on pay equity developments and has presented on the topic to three separate state bar associations.
Katie started her career at Orrick in 2004 and returned in 2015. From 2011 to 2014, she was an associate at a litigation boutique in San Francisco where she handled employment and constitutional law matters.
Posts by: Kathryn Mantoan
On March 6, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia published Secretary’s Order 01-2020, which is among the first of his management decisions since his confirmation back in September. The Order, titled the “Delegation of Authority and Assignment of Responsibility to the Administrative Review Board,” establishes the Secretary’s authority to review, at his discretion, decisions of the Department of Labor (DOL)’s Administrative Review Board (ARB), including decisions arising out of enforcement actions brought by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The Order represents a shift in procedure before the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) and introduces various new process and substantive legal questions to be aware of in connection with contractor pay discrimination enforcement actions. READ MORE
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
Oregon employers looking to evaluate their pay equity picture in 2020 should be aware of a handful of updates to the state’s equal pay law that went into effect on January 1.
Oregon overhauled its law in 2017, expanding its coverage beyond sex-based pay differentials and modifying the standard for comparators whose pay must be equal absent a legitimate business justification. SB123 makes a handful of small but potentially significant changes:
- Existing law provided that pay differentials can be justified based on a seniority system, merit system, or system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production. The amendment adds a statutory definition of “system”: “a consistent and verifiable method in use at the time that a violation is alleged.” Correspondingly, the more onerous definition of “system” that had appeared in OAR 839-008-0015 was repealed.
- Existing law included a limited statutory safe harbor provision (ORS 652.235), which authorizes a motion to disallow compensatory and punitive damages in suits under the state’s equal pay law if an employer has completed a good faith “equal-pay analysis” within three years pre-suit. That provision was revised to require that a qualifying equal-pay analysis include “a review of practices designed to eliminate unlawful wage differentials.” The revision also requires an employer attempting to avail itself of the safe harbor to show that it has “made reasonable and substantial progress toward eliminating unlawful wage differentials for the employer’s employees.” The revision eliminates reference to the specific protected class asserted by a particular plaintiff and instead addresses unlawful wage differentials more generally.
- The new law provides that evidence that an employer increased an employee’s pay as a result of conducting an equal-pay analysis may not be considered as an admission of liability in an equal pay case under state law.
- The law authorizes pay differences where an employee performs modified work due to a compensable injury or medical condition, alleviating concerns employers might have had about pay disparities in such circumstances.
- Finally, the amendment expressly addresses unionized workforces, providing that pay differences can be justified if one or more of the enumerated statutory defenses is contained in a collective bargaining agreement. This amendment may represent an effort to address concerns previously expressed by Oregon employers who employ both non-unionized employees and members of unions that bargain for pay rates along with other conditions of work. But it is unclear what impact it will have given that the amended law continues to require that the pay differences be tied to one of the previously enumerated defenses.
We will continue to monitor developments and amendments in Oregon and report on them here.
This year has seen states enact a litany of laws aimed at addressing pay equity issues, chief among them salary history bans. We previously reported on these issues here, here, and here. Mid-way through 2019, more and more states continue moving full speed ahead with legislation to bar employers from asking about candidates’ prior salary during the hiring process. Since our last report on this topic, the latest newcomers in this area are Washington and New Jersey. These states (like others) have expressly justified these bans based on legislative findings that “[t]he long-held business practice of inquiring about salary history has contributed to persistent earning inequalities” (see H.B. 1696, § 3(a), 66th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2019) (enacted)), while courts evaluating such provisions have found that “more is needed” to establish the presumed connection. See Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia v. City of Philadelphia, 319 F. Supp. 3d 773, 797-98 (E.D. Pa. 2018). Regardless, though, these laws are now on the books and employers should be mindful of their requirements going forward. READ MORE
As readers of this blog know, pay equity laws and regulations are expanding rapidly in the U.S. at both the federal and local level, as well as internationally. And while regulatory compliance is critical and remains an area to watch (and we’ll keep covering it for you here), employers can take a short breath of relief after a recent victory in one of the key proving grounds for equal pay claims—class and collective action litigation.
On March 29, 2019, in Ahad v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois decertified an equal pay collective action brought by a group of female physicians. Although the plaintiff alleged that she and other female physicians were paid less than male comparators for equal or similar work under the same compensation plan, Judge Sue E. Myerscough concluded that the opt-in members of the collective action had widely varying practices, duties, and compensation structures that would require many individualized inquiries, making the case inappropriate for treatment as a collective action.
The world of professional sports has long grappled with criticism of the stark pay differences between male and female athletes – think Billie Jean King’s “equal pay for equal play” push. A recent case brought by twenty-eight players on the United States Women’s National Soccer team (WNT) against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) launched the issue back to the forefront of the pay equity arena earlier this month. READ MORE
As we reported last month, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued proposed regulations interpreting the provisions of the new Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017, which will become effective January 1, 2019.
On November 19, 2018, after receiving a number of comments on proposed rules BOLI filed final rules with the Secretary of State. Stakeholders that provided input on the potential impact of the rules as originally proposed ranged from large law firms and industry groups to small business owners and farmers, as well as multiple higher education institutions (including Oregon State University, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, and the Oregon Community College Association). READ MORE
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has issued proposed regulations interpreting the provisions of the new Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017, which will become effective January 1, 2019. Although the prohibition against “seek[ing]” salary history from applicants already is in effect, many of the law’s most significant provisions go into effect on January 1. READ MORE
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.).