Federal and state law guarantees men and women equal pay for equal work. But women have continued to face workplace discrimination in the form of unequal pay. A federal appeals court recently reinstated a teacher’s pay discrimination lawsuit charging that the school paid her less because it also employed her husband and its administrator said that they had a fine salary together.
Higher salary rejected
The plaintiff was hired in 2006 as a life sciences teacher at a residential school for high school juniors and seniors operated by Ball State University in Muncie. Her starting salary was $32,000.
When she tried to negotiate a higher starting salary, its administrator allegedly told her that she did not need more money because her husband worked at Ball State and that their combined salary would be sufficient.
In 2017, she complained to the dean of Ball State’s Teacher College that she was paid less than several male colleagues doing the same work. The dean allegedly said that the issue was higher starting pay for the others, that her salary increased by over 36 percent during her employment and she received greater increases than male employees.
The plaintiff filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act. A federal district court granted motions dismissing the lawsuit after accepting the academy’s explanation that the pay differences were unrelated to gender.
It also ruled that the administrator’s alleged 2006 statement about the plaintiff’s husband could not support her discrimination claims. The statement occurred outside the time required for filing lawsuits under these laws.
Appeals court reversed
The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed the trial court on Jan. 5. It ruled that the Academy clearly discriminated against the plaintiff when the administrator discussed her husband’s employment when he rejected her salary request. It sent the case back to the trial court to allow the plaintiff to pursue evidence that her pay was below several male colleagues.
The court rejected the academy’s arguments that the administrator’s comment rejecting her salary requests, assuming that it was true, was not water cooler talk and was an explanation made during salary negotiations.
The alleged comments were within the time restrictions for filing these lawsuits, according to the Court, under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. That law’s paycheck accrual rule meant that a new cause of action arose under Title VII based upon the date that the paycheck was issued and not when the underlying discriminatory practice occurred.
An attorney can help you enforce your rights. They can also seek compensation and damages for pay discrimination.