Federal Agencies Resolve Equal Pay and Retaliation Claims Against Harmony Public Schools

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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EEOC and Department of Justice Claimed Schools Paid Teacher Less Because Of Her Gender And Retaliated Against Her For Complaining About Discrimination

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that they have entered into a consent decree to resolve both agencies' claims against Harmony Public Schools on behalf of Nicole M. Tuchscherer, a former teacher at Harmony Science Academy-Austin. The decree is pending approval by the U.S. District Court.

Tuchscherer - who taught art at Harmony Science Academy-Austin for five years, held a State of Texas teaching certification, and met the state's "Highly Qualified" teacher criteria -made $40,000 in her fifth year of teaching. In comparison, Harmony paid an uncertified male art teacher with no previous teaching experience an annual salary of $44,000 to teach art at another Austin-area school.

In May 2010, during an annual salary negotiation meeting with the school principal, Tuchscherer asked Harmony to pay her a salary equal to that of male teachers of Turkish national origin at the school. According to the Justice Department's complaint, when Tuchscherer also told Principal Halit Erdogdu that she believed Harmony discriminates against women and Americans in compensation, he became angry with her for raising these issues and called her unprofessional and negative. Two weeks later, Harmony Public Schools informed Tuchscherer that her teaching contract had not been renewed. Both the EEOC and the DOJ allege that this decision was in retaliation for Tuchscherer complaining of unlawful discrimination.

Such alleged pay disparities and punishment for complaining about them violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which prohibits paying one gender less than the other for performing the same or substantially similar work, and which also prohibits retaliation for complaining about such pay disparities. The EEOC, which has litigation authority against state and local governments under the EPA, filed suit on October 30, 2012 (civ action 1:12-cv-01003-SS) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleged that Harmony Public Schools violated the EPA when it paid Tuchscherer less than a male teacher who performed the same or substantially similar work and when it retaliated against her for opposing such compensation practices.

The Justice Department's complaint, which was filed with the consent decree also in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleged that Harmony Public Schools violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) when it retaliated against Tuchscherer by failing to renew her teaching contract because she complained of pay discrimination. The DOJ has litigation authority against state and local governments under Title VII. The parties are seeking to consolidate the two cases and have asked the U.S. District Court to enter the consent decree resolving the claims of both agencies. This is the second joint EPA/Title VII litigation effort in Texas resolved by the two federal agencies.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Harmony Public Schools has agreed to pay $125,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages to Tuchscherer. Harmony Public Schools has also agreed to include two previously-written reference letters in Tuchscherer's official personnel file, to develop and distribute comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies, to train the employees at its five Austin-area schools regarding employee rights and employer obligations under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, and to post a notice to employees on the premises of its Austin-area schools.

"The EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan has made sex-based wage discrimination a national enforcement priority," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case represents our latest enforcement effort to combat this problem and reflects our commitment to work collaboratively with our governmental partners to end employment discrimination."

"Both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act protect employees who have the courage to challenge discriminatory compensation practices from unlawful retaliation by their employers," said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We are pleased to have been able to work cooperatively with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to achieve a broad range of injunctive and monetary relief in this important case."

In fiscal year 2012, EEOC received over 4,100 charges of gender-based wage discrimination, and obtained over $24 million in relief for victims of gender-based wage discrimination through administrative enforcement efforts and litigation. The EEOC and DOJ also continue to serve as key members of the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, a federal government initiative focused on ending the gender pay gap.

The EEOC's case was litigated by Senior Trial Attorney Eduardo Juarez and Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith Taylor of the EEOC, and the Justice Department's case was handled by Senior Trial Attorneys Valerie Meyer and Amy Kurren and Deputy Chief Karen Woodard of the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov. Additional information about the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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