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EEOC Challenges Physician Pay Practices of Texas County Health Department

On August 31, 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Dallas filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division, against Denton County, Texas, alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act with regard to Denton’s compensation of two physicians in the county health department. The suit claims the county discriminated against Dr. Martha C. Storrie, a primary care clinician with the health department since October 2008, by “paying lesser wages to [Dr. Storrie] than it paid to a male physician performing the same job.” The EEOC alleges that in August 2015, Denton County hired a male physician to occupy the position of primary care clinician—the same position held by Dr. Storrie—and that the male physician earned at least $34,000 more per year than Dr. Storrie did.

This case does not mark a change in direction for the EEOC on equal pay; in fact, the EEOC has made clear that “energetically enforcing equal pay laws is currently one of [its] national strategic priorities.” But it does demonstrate the agency’s willingness to tackle issues in the healthcare industry, including physician pay. According to EEOC Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino, “In the health care field, just as in any other job market, the best medicine for employers ailing from poor pay practices is to remedy gender-based pay disparities that have been premised on outdated sex stereotypes.”

The healthcare industry is ripe for claims such as this from either the EEOC or the plaintiffs’ bar as a result of pay discrepancies that can result from differing educational, residency, and fellowship training backgrounds of physicians. This is because hospitals and healthcare providers are often forced to pay a premium for physicians as a result of their training backgrounds or the need to fill vacancies in certain specialties. Also, most physician employment arrangements and contracts are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and where pay is not premised solely on productivity or revenue, salary disparities can result. Healthcare organizations may want to carefully review their compensation models—not just with physicians, but for all healthcare workers—for potential pay disparities that could lead to claims such as the one facing Denton County.

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 258


About this Author

Baker, Dallas, shareholder, Ogletree

Jana Baker represents employers on all matters impacting their employees under federal and state labor and employment laws, including compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).   Ms. Baker oversees investigations, handles charges of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and defends any ensuing litigation in state and federal court.  

Ms. Baker also advises...

McBride, Associate, Texas, Ogletree, Employment Law

James T. McBride advises and represents companies in a broad range of labor and employment matters including wage and hour class and collective cases, discrimination, harassment, and leave of absence and accommodation matters.  James has appeared before courts in wage and hour matters, discrimination and harassment cases, as well as non-competition and breach of fiduciary disputes and before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a wide variety of matters, including discrimination, retaliation and additional issues under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) matters.  James has also defended employers in cases before the National Labor Relations Board related to unfair labor practice charges and union election matters.

James’ experience spans multiple industries with a particular focus on the hospitality industry, private equity firms, and manufacturing companies.  James has defended clients in wage and hour class and collective action lawsuits and in DOL investigations and provides day-to-day advice and counsel on designing and implementing proactive policies to assist national employers in minimizing their risk of liability under all facets of labor and employment laws.   

Prior to attending law school, James spent several years working for a Big Four accounting and professional services firm as a management consultant in their IT advisory practice as well as for two Fortune 500 companies in risk management roles where James was responsible for identifying business risks and providing guidance to proactively reduce the companies’ risks.  These experiences make James a trusted business partner to his clients and allow him to understand the issues unique to each client’s business.