IANGEL JOINS AMICUS BRIEF TO SUPPORT EQUAL PAY
By Johanna Kanes, IANGEL Bridge Fellow
IANGEL recently joined 46 other womens’, civil, and workers’ rights organizations in a brief authored by Equal Rights Advocates and Lief Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein supporting psychology professor Jennifer Freyd’s equal pay and gender discriminitation claims against the University of Oregon. Professor Freyd filed suit after discovering that she was paid $18,000 less than her closest comparable male peer and substantially less than male colleagues in her department who hold the same positions, have less seniority, and are no more accomplished. Her case was dismissed by a federal judge who asserted that the pay difference was about the kind of work the men in the department do and the retention raises they had secured, rather than due to the professor’s’ gender.
Ms. Freyd’s appeal, and cases like hers, are essential to correcting the gender wage gap and advancing the workplace rights of women. The amicus brief submitted to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal highlights the shocking but unsurprising statistics concerning pay inequities in the workplace. In 2018, women were paid an average of 82 cents on the dollar earned by men – a wage gap of about 20% that will not close (at the current rate) until 2059. The brief notes that the pay gap actually increases as education levels increase, so that workers with advanced degrees (like Professor Freyd) and at the top of the wage distribution often experience the greatest pay inequities. As a result, women in the United States lose over $915 billion a year.
The amicus brief asserts that the District Court misapplied legal standards for claims under the Equal Pay Act by improperly applying a Title VII burden-shifting framework; erroneously defining “equal work,” creating a carve out of professional workers from the EPA; improperly considering retention raises as “factors other than sex” to account for the pay gap; and misapplying the legal standards for disparate impact claims. Additionally, the court’s reasoning could preclude all plaintiff small employee pools from proving disparate impact.
A dangerous precedent will be set if the District Court’s dismissal stands. The court’s application of the Equal Pay Act frustrates Congressional intent to impose a heavy burden of proof on the defense and would relieve future defendants of their burden by merely requiring any facially gender-neutral business reason as a defense. The District Court also failed to acknowledge the importance of statistics in wage gap claims, stating that in this case there was “such a small sample size as to render the statistical significance of Professor Freyd’s analysis suspect.” However, as the brief argues, this analysis “jeopardizes the use of statistical analysis to prove disparate impact claims, regardless of the size of the underlying data set.” Finally, the brief outlines how in its decision the court actually reproduces the very implicit gender bias that the Equal Pay Act and Title VII were enacted to prevent.
The amicus brief argues that allowing an employer to rely on market-based excuses to justify pay differences between women and men doing the same job contradicts the purpose of equal pay laws themselves, and perpetuates the gender wage gap. IANGEL continues to support efforts that work to ensure gender equality under the law. You can read more about IANGEL’s work here and here.