Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Equal Pay Act claim fails

We don't see too many Equal Pay Act claims in the Second Circuit. This case raises the issue of when plaintiff is able to compare herself to co-workers who earned more money. We see why these cases are so hard to win.

The case is Chiaramonte v. The Animal Medical Center, a summary order issued on January 26. Equal pay for equal work is a laudable concept, but it's hard to prove in court. Here is the legal standard:

“[T]o prove a violation of the EPA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the employer pays different wages to employees of the opposite sex; (2) the employees perform equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility; and (3) the jobs are performed under similar working conditions.” Critical to an EPA claim is the equal work inquiry, which requires evidence “that the jobs compared are ‘substantially equal.’” “Substantially equal” does not mean “identical.” “To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff must establish that the jobs compared entail common duties or content, and do not simply overlap in titles or classifications.” “[A] successful EPA claim depends on the comparison of actual job content; broad generalizations drawn from job titles, classifications, or divisions, and conclusory assertions of sex discrimination, cannot suffice.”
The Second Circuit (Livingston, Hall and Droney) says plaintiff cannot make out an EPA claim. While she says her better-paid male colleagues performed substantially similar work and had similar credentials and responsibilities, the Court of Appeals says that although "her position as Director of The President's Council and Rehabilitation Center shared some common characteristics,such as administrative responsibilities, with the positions of her male co-workers," there were "material differences in the congruity of job content."

Are any two jobs alike? Maybe so in some job contexts. The Court of Appeals finds that plaintiff took on different duties from her colleagues. Here is the reasoning:

Chiraramonte’s responsibilities as the Director of the President’s Council entailed primarily public-relations-type duties as well as primary care. ... Unlike the alleged comparators, Chiaramonte was not responsible for supervising interns or other veterinarians, and she contributed little if any scholarly research. Moreover, Chiaramonte carried a low patient load, seeing only one to three patients a day. Although she did perform some rehabilitation treatments at the Rehabilitation Center, she could go months without treating patients. Some of her better-paid male colleagues, on the other hand, treated up to 15 patients a day.

As aptly noted by the district court, Chiaramonte’s efforts to draw comparisons between her positions and those of her five co-workers “miss the mark because they essentially require the [c]ourt to embrace the principle that the work of all veterinarians is equivalent, thereby ignoring distinctions among the different specialties in veterinarian medicine.” That basis for demonstrating equal work has been expressly foreclosed by this Court.

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