For more information please call  800.727.2766


Timing and Incorrect Disparate Pay Standard Revive Employee’s Discrimination Claims

Danielle Lenzi alleged that Systemax, Inc. paid her less than it would have paid her if she was male, retaliated against her when she complained, and then fired her when she became pregnant. A district court dismissed the case on summary judgment but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated her case.
Beginning in 2001, Lenzi noticed a difference in the amount she was being paid in comparison to her peers. According to Lenzi, while her male counterparts earned salaries that exceeded the market rate, she earned below the market rate. She complained about it ultimately to the CEO. Within a few weeks, she was “basically demoted,” reporting to someone lower in the organization. Lenzi was told that if she left the office during work hours, she would need to take vacation time. Her supervisor also informed her that she had to provide advance notice if she were to contact the CEO again. She was then challenged on an expense report for a business trip she had taken. Lenzi agreed to provide documentation to the extent she could and let her supervisor know that she was having “morning sickness and complete exhaustion from [her] first trimester of pregnancy” during the work trip. Just three days later, an internal audit of her expense account was conducted. Lenzi asserted it was the first of its kind at the company. Emails and other documents were placed in her personnel file at the same time to show her performance was problematic. She was fired based on the outcome of the audit.
The Second Circuit found that the timing of her pregnancy disclosure and her termination were sufficient to raise an inference of discrimination. Within days of mentioning her pregnancy, Lenzi’s expense report turned into an internal audit and expanded to include a search for other alleged policy violations in addition to the added job performance issues. With regard to her pay discrimination claim under Title VII, the appellate court determined that the district court used the incorrect standard. Relying on the Equal Pay Act’s requirements, the district court found her claim failed because she did not show that the positions held by her male comparators were substantially equal. Under Title VII, a claim may be brought for “any form of sex-based compensation discrimination” and the issue was whether the challenged wage rate was based on sex. Lenzi’s evidence that she was paid at less than a market rate while male executives were paid above was enough to make a preliminary showing of discriminatory intent.