Second Circuit Rejects Attempt to Prove Equal Pay Violation Through Simple Salary Comparison

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from compensation discrimination on the basis of gender. If the employees perform the same or substantially equal work, they should receive comparable pay. How do plaintiffs try to prove pay discrimination, and how can employers defend their pay practices? A recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision sheds light on both of these questions.

In Chairamonte v. Animal Med. Ctr., the plaintiff was a female veterinarian who alleged she was paid substantially less than her male colleagues. To substantiate this claim, she provided a list of the practices’ veterinarians broken down by salary and gender. All listed doctors, including the plaintiff, were department heads whom she claimed had similar credentials and responsibilities. The employer contended that the plaintiff’s work was substantially less than the comparators in terms of complexity, volume and specialization.

The Second Circuit agreed with the employer, affirming dismissal of the claim on summary judgment. The court stated that mere salary comparisons absent equality of actual job content fails to make out a prima facie case of pay discrimination under the EPA. In this case, the alleged male comparators had substantially busier practices, and performed complex and specialized procedures absent from the plaintiff’s work.

While statistical evidence alone will not prove pay discrimination, employers should consider how they would defend pay discrepancies among male and female employees with the same job titles, or those at the same level on the company’s organizational chart. Many employers periodically perform compensation audits (preferably under attorney-client privilege) intended to determine apparent discrepancies, and either confirm the business justification for the differences, or adjust salaries to eliminate those that cannot be adequately explained through legitimate and defensible business reasons.

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.

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