Class Certification Denied in Physician Equal Pay Lawsuit Under a Blanket Compensation Plan
An Illinois District Court recently denied certification of a class of female physicians claiming that their employer’s pay practices unlawfully discriminated against women in violation of Title VII, the Illinois Equal Pay Act, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act (Ahad v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University).
Plaintiff alleged that the implementation of the defendant’s, Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees’, “compensation plan” resulted in pay disparity between male and female physicians.
In holding that the plaintiff failed to meet the Rule 23(a) requirements of “commonality” and “typicality,” the court held that the mere implementation of the compensation plan failed to form the “glue” needed to meet class certification standards. The Court found that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate how the facially gender-neutral compensation plan could have created disparate compensation results. While the plaintiff argued that the compensation plan delegated discretion to the department chairs based on objective criteria, the plaintiff failed to present any argument that those objective factors were in any way biased against women, or that the factors were the “cause” in pay disparity.
Plaintiff’s expert’s findings showed that female physicians were paid significantly less (a point that was directly contradicted by defendant’s expert), and the plaintiff argued that there was no other explanation for the alleged disparity. However, the Court held that the compensation plan, on its own, did not provide the necessary glue to show that adjudicating the claims on a class-wide basis would “produce a common answer to the questions of whether and why compensation for female physicians was lower…”
The court likewise held that the plaintiff’s expert statistical evidence failed to “turn the tides” of its analysis. Citing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Holding in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the court held that statistical evidence, on its own, “does not and cannot” satisfy the Rule 23(a) commonality requirement.
The court also noted that Rule 23(a)’s typicality requirement tends to merge with the requirement of commonality. Having already found that the plaintiff failed to show commonality, the court summarily held that typicality likewise was not satisfied.
This case provides employers with further authority that, where employees are subject to a blanket compensation policy that may (even with supporting statistical evidence) result in pay disparity, plaintiffs cannot maintain class claims solely on the existence and implementation of the policy in and of itself.