• Court Ruling Highlights Challenges Employers Face in Fending Off Discrimination Lawsuits
  • April 10, 2018 | Author: Robert Garcia
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Orlando Office
  • The plaintiff was hired as an automobile detailer and was eventually promoted to arbitration manager with a starting salary of $32,000. She replaced a male arbitration manager who earned $46,350 during his first year in the same position. After learning of the pay discrepancy, she brought suit against her employer for violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on sex discrimination. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

    In reversing the trial court’s order, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff’s prior salary and work experience was insufficient to bar her claims because she presented evidence that, not only did her predecessor have a higher starting salary, but that she remained consistently below the salary range for individuals in that position. The court found that once the plaintiff established herself as an effective arbitration manager, her prior salary and work experience no longer justified her being treated differently than her predecessor. Therefore, the plaintiff was permitted to proceed with her EPA and Title VII claims as sex could have been one of several factors justifying the defendant’s pay decisions.
    The court’s ruling in Bowen signals the ever increasing challenge employers face in fending off discrimination lawsuits. As the court noted, while employers can avoid liability if they prove that the wage differential was justified by some factor other than sex, the burden is an extremely “difficult” and “heavy one.” Therefore, in order to avoid potential lawsuits, employers should review their payroll records and see how male and female employees compare to one another. Holding a specific sex below the payroll level of their peers for the same work, despite an initial lower starting salary or lack of work experience, may subject the employer to liability.