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Pay Disparity Based on Salary History Not Violation of Equal Pay Act

The Fresno School District in Arizona paid Aileen Rizo less than her male co-workers based on her salary history. Ms. Rizo was a math consultant which was a management level position. Pay for all management level employees was determined by a salary schedule. All new math consultants began with Level 1. To determine which step within Level 1 a new consultant would start with, the school district looked to the person’s most recent prior salary and increased that by 5%. Ms. Rizo received Level 1, Step 1 because of her low salary at her previous employment.

During a lunch with some co-workers, Ms. Rizo learned that a recently hired male math consultant started at Level 1, Step 9. She then found out that all of the other consultants, who were all men, made more money than she did. Ms. Rizo filed suit under the Equal Pay Act.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case. It was uncontroverted that Ms. Rizo was paid less than her male co-workers. However, the school district argued that the differential in pay was “based on any other factor other than sex,” an affirmative defense under the Equal Pay Act. According the circuit court, a salary differential based only on prior earnings is not an automatic violation of the Equal Pay Act. Rather, the district court must evaluate the four non-discriminatory business reasons put forth by the school district to determine “whether the County used prior salary ‘reasonably in light of [its] stated purpose[s] as well as its other practices.” The school district will bear the burden of showing its reasons are reasonable.