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Matthew M. Hoffman

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Co-chair, Municipal & School Group

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Inconsistent Practice of Salary Schedule Placement for New Employees Can Lead to Equal Pay Claim

Matthew M. Hoffman, mhoffman@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-3910

Rebecca Cartee-Haring v. Central Bucks School District, Civil Action No. 20-1995 (E.D. Pa. 8/24/22) (A federal court grants certification of a collective action by female teachers pursuing an Equal Pay Act claim for discriminatory hiring practices involving unequal recognition of prior school employment upon their hire).

Background

Several female teachers employed by Central Bucks School District initiated a civil action against the School District pursuant to the Equal Pay Act, claiming that they received less favorable treatment than male teachers when placed on the teachers’ salary schedule upon their initial employment by the School District. Prior to their employment by the School District, the female teachers had worked in other public school districts within Pennsylvania. According to their complaint, the teachers were informed that it was the practice of the School District to place newly hired teachers at the first step of the salary schedule and without providing credit for step placement for prior teaching experience in other school districts. The female teachers’ complaint identified twenty-six (26) male teachers who received salary step credit for prior teaching experience in other school districts upon their employment by the School District.

The female teachers asserted claims of discriminatory employment practices by the School District pursuant to the Equal Pay Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Equal Protection Act. The claimants requested, and the court granted, collective certification to allow them to pursue their claims collectively rather by individual suits.

Discussion

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from compensating employees of one sex differently than it compensates employees of another when the work all the employees perform requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) provides a mechanism through which individual Equal Protection Act (“EPA”) litigants can aggregate their claims and proceed collectively. Because the female teachers were similarly situated, the court allowed their claims to proceed collectively.

Notable to this certification was that the School District advocated against collective certification on the basis that the teachers’ claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to Equal Pay Act claims. In this regard, most of the claimant teachers had been initially employed by the School District more than two years prior to the filing of the suit. The federal court rejected this assertion on the premise that, for a continuing violation, the statute of limitations begins on the date of the last occurrence of discrimination, rather than the first. Thus, although the female teachers were hired years ago, beginning as early as the 2000 calendar year, their claims were not foreclosed by the statute of limitations because their alleged discriminatory under-compensation was a continuing violation of the Equal Pay Act.

Practical Advice

The establishment of gender-neutral compensation protocols and standards and consistent adherence to them is critical to avoiding Equal Pay Act claims. Even in the absence of discriminatory intent, inconsistent compensation practices, such as the recognition of prior teaching experience for salary step placement, can lead to unintended disparate outcomes that can support claims of discriminatory treatment, whether based upon gender or other protected classifications (e.g., race, ethnic origin, etc.).

Further, the decision in this case is instructive that the passage of time may not preclude the assertion of claims of discriminatory compensation practices. Because the “continuing violation” principle considers the most recent occurrence of discrimination as the operative date for the application of statutes of limitation, past failures to ensure consistent treatment of employees can expose a school district to viable claims if not corrected.

For more information, contact Matt Hoffman at mhoffman@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-3910.

December 07, 2022

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