The Ninth Circuit recently ruled in Rizo v. Yovino that a female’s prior salary can be a “factor other than sex,” thus justifying a pay disparity between comparable male and female employees for purposes of the Equal Pay Act.
The plaintiff was an employee of the public schools in Fresno County, California. Upon discovering that the County paid her less than her male counterparts for the same work, she brought an action against the County under the Equal Pay Act. The County conceded that it paid the plaintiff less than male employees but argued that the pay differential was based on the plaintiff’s prior salary.
Under the Equal Pay Act, there are four exceptions that permit a wage disparity; one of those exceptions is “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.”
In determining that prior salary alone can never qualify as a factor other than sex, the district court reasoned that “a pay structure based exclusively on prior wages is so inherently fraught with the risk…that it will perpetuate a discriminatory wage disparity between men and women that it cannot stand, even if motivated by a legitimate non-discriminatory business purpose.” In vacating the district court’s order, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may base its pay differential on prior salary so long as its use effectuated some business policy and the employer reasonably used it in light of its stated purpose and other practices. The Ninth Circuit remanded the matter back to the district court to evaluate the employer’s business reasons in setting the salaries.
Therefore, in essence, the Ninth Circuit has held that an employer may perpetuate existing pay disparities so long as it is part of a company’s business policy. However, this case has the potential to go to the U.S. Supreme Court as other appeals courts have decided this issue differently.
About the Author:
Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.