Tenth Circuit Dismissal of Claims of Discrimination in Pay Highlights Importance of Conducting Proactive and Privileged Pay Equity Analyses
In Catalina v. Moniz, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico dismissed Equal Pay Act and Title VII pay discrimination claims brought against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Although Plaintiff raised a question of fact regarding whether she performed “substantially equal work” as a male coworker, the employer presented evidence that the pay difference resulted from the male employee’s greater prior experience and educational background in science. Specifically, the male employee possessed a degree in biological sciences, which plaintiff did not, and had significantly more prior related experience as an industrial hygienist, a physical scientist and an employee of the federal government. As the court noted, prior experience is a factor “other than sex” for purposes of the Equal Pay Act. Based on these factors, the court dismissed both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII claims on summary judgment without the need for a trial.
This case underscores a nationwide trend, both at the federal and state levels, towards greater pay transparency, more limited employer defenses to pay discrimination claims, and wider availability of potential damages. Undertaking a proactive, privileged pay equity analysis in order to examine pay disparities between comparable employees, if any, and in order to ensure legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons explain all such differences may avoid such claims or, at a minimum, make them more easily defensible and susceptible to early case resolution.