Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of EEOC's Equal Pay Act Claim Against Port Authority

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By Lisa Nagele

Sept. 29 — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can't pursue its claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey alleging that the authority paid female attorneys less than male attorneys in violation of the Equal Pay Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Sept. 29.

Affirming judgment on the pleadings for the port authority, the Second Circuit found that the EEOC failed to compare the attorneys' actual job duties to support its claim that male and female nonsupervisory attorneys performed “equal work.”

The court rejected the EEOC's argument that the attorneys performed substantially equal jobs because they had the same job codes, were evaluated based on the same criteria and received salary increases based on the same “maturity curve.”

The EEOC's broad allegations ignored legitimate factors other than sex, such as “varying workplace demands,” that could account for differences in pay, the court said. The allegations based on attorneys having “the same job code” were “plainly insufficient to support a claim under the EPA,” the court said, affirming dismissal of the complaint.

EEOC Failed to Compare Actual Job Duties

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying male employees more than female employees for performing “substantially equal” work, the court explained. It said the EEOC “must establish that the jobs compared entail common duties or content, and do not simply overlap in titles or classifications.”

However, the EEOC relied on “broad generalizations drawn from job titles and divisions” that were “supplemented only by the unsupported assertion that all Port Authority nonsupervisory attorneys had the same job,” the court said.

Despite a three-year investigation, the EEOC failed to include a comparison of actual job duties that would allow a “reasonable inference” that the attorneys' job duties were “substantially equal,” the court said.

Although the EEOC argued that all nonsupervisory attorneys were required to have “similar experience, training, education, or ability,” the complaint didn't provide information about job content, such as whether attorneys dealt with “complex commercial matters” or “minor slip-and-falls,” the court said.

“Simply put, the EEOC has not alleged a single nonconclusory fact supporting its assertion that the claimants' and comparators' jobs required ‘substantially equal' skill and effort,” the court held, affirming the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Comparators Appeared Random

The comparisons drawn between male and female attorneys seemed “superficially random,” the court said. For example, it said, the EEOC compared a male attorney who was earning only $2,000 more per year with a female attorney who had 16 years less experience.

Although the EEOC argued that all nonsupervisory attorneys were required to have “similar experience, training, education, or ability,” the complaint didn't provide information about job content, such as whether attorneys dealt with “complex commercial matters” or “minor slip-and-falls,” the Second Circuit said.

Furthermore, the comparison table showed that many male attorneys were paid less than their similarly qualified male co-workers, the court added.

This undermines the EEOC's argument that differences in pay “cannot be attributed to factors other than sex,” the court found.

Julie L. Gantz in the EEOC's Washington, D.C., office represented the agency. K&L Gates LLP in Newark, N.J., represented the Port Authority.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Nagele in Washington at lnagele@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the opinion is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=lnae-9peqw.