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Fact Sheet: Notable EEOC Litigation Involving Pay Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibit pay discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Combatting pay discrimination is a top national priority for the agency. The EEOC has recovered millions of dollars for workers subjected to compensation discrimination and obtained significant injunctive relief to remedy discriminatory practices and prevent future violations. Some notable cases include:

District Court Litigation

  • EEOC v. First Metropolitan Financial Services, Inc., 1:18-cv-177 (N.D. Miss. March 18, 2021) (Female bank manager paid less than males in same position). EEOC sued First Metropolitan Financial Services alleging that the consumer loan provider paid female branch managers less than men in that position. A woman hired in 2010 as branch manager of the bank’s Tupelo, Mississippi location was paid a salary of $36,000, and in 2016, was earning $41,691 at the much larger Fulton, Mississippi branch. In December 2016, she learned the bank hired a man as manager of the Tupelo branch at a salary of $48,014. She asked the bank about the pay discrepancy, and the bank refused to discuss it. The female branch manager resigned in February 2017. The two-year consent decree provides for a total of $100,000 in monetary relief to the former female branch manager and another affected employee. The decree also requires the bank to create an equal pay policy and prohibits the bank from inquiring about applicants’ prior earnings history during the hiring process.
  • EEOC v. AH 2007 Management, LP d/b/a Courtyard Monroe Airport, and Aimbridge Hospitality, LLC d/b/a Aimbridge Hospitality, LLC, No. 19-cv-914 (W.D. La. Feb. 3, 2021) (Hotel management firms paid male worker 38% more than his female supervisor and at least 60% more than his female coworkers). The EEOC sued AH 2007 Management alleging that the former operators of a Marriott Courtyard hotel paid a female front desk supervisor and female guest services representatives (GSRs) less than a male GSR performing equal work. After employees complained about the wage disparity, the company unlawfully reduced the wages of the male GSR. The suit was resolved through a three-year consent decree providing $400,000 to 25 claimants in backpay and other damages and enjoins Title VII and EPA discrimination. The decree also requires AH 2007 Management to retain a labor economist to conduct periodic pay equity studies and to provide reports on the findings to the EEOC.
  • EEOC v. Enoch Pratt Free Library, No. 8:17-cv-02860 (D. Md. Dec. 23, 2020) (Public library paid female library branch managers lower wages than a male coworker). The EEOC sued Enoch Pratt Free Library alleging that the Baltimore, Maryland public library system paid five female branch managers less than a male branch manager for performing substantially equal work. The library paid the male branch manager an annual salary $1,100 to $6,000 higher than the female branch managers, despite their longer years of service and experience. Following a five-day trial, the court ruled in favor of the EEOC, finding that the library had failed to produce any evidence to explain the male’s higher salary. The court awarded the five women backpay and equal amounts in liquidated damages. The court also required the library to adjust the individuals’ retirement accounts consistent with the backpay awards.
  • EEOC v. Covenant Medical Center, Inc., 2:20-cv-10662 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 2, 2020) (Health care system paid female developer less than two male co-workers). The EEOC sued Covenant Medical Center alleging that it paid a female employee less than two male employees who performed substantially the same work as she did. Following a reorganization, the company placed the female employee and a male coworker into business intelligence developer positions, and less than a year later hired a man into the same position. The company paid the female employee $31.67 an hour, the male coworker $39.94, and the male new hire $35.05. When the female employee asked about the wage differences, she was told they were based on factors other than sex, such as the coworker’s prior salary history and the new hire’s negotiation of his pay rate. However, the female employee’s extensive experience and the mathematical formula the company relied on should have resulted in a higher hourly rate than she received, and the company had refused to negotiate her pay rate. The case was resolved through a two-year consent decree providing the female employee $104,707 in monetary relief and raising her pay to $40.54 an hour.
  • EEOC v. Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Jackson National Life Distributors, LLC, and Jackson National Life Insurance Company of New York, No. 16-cv-02472 (D. Colo. Jan. 7, 2020) (Insurance companies discriminated against female and African American employees in pay and promotions, tolerated harassment, and retaliated against employees who complained). The EEOC sued Jackson National Life Insurance Company alleging that the company subjected black, female, and African employees to race, color, sex, and national origin discrimination in promotions, compensation, terms and conditions of employment, discipline, and discharge, and that the company retaliated against employees who opposed the discriminatory conduct or filed charges with EEOC. The case was resolved through a four-year consent decree providing $20.5 million to 21 individuals and requiring the company to retain an outside consultant to review its EEO policies, promotion and compensation practices and data, and future complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
  • EEOC v. Cummins, Inc., d/b/a Cummins Business Services, No. 3:17-cv-01306 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 29, 2019) (Engine company Paid a Female Employee Less Than a Male Performing the Same Work). The EEOC sued Cummins Business Services alleging that the diesel engine manufacturer paid a woman working in an employee benefits position at its Nashville, Tennessee, call center less than a man holding the same position. After 17 months in the position, the woman was earning $40,900 annually. When she learned that a newly hired man was being paid $47,000, she asked for a salary review. The salary review showed she was not being compensated at the market rate, but the company refused to adjust her salary. The suit was resolved through a two-and-a-half year consent decree providing $77,500 to the female employee. The decree also provides that the company will not rely solely on prior salary in determining compensation.
  • EEOC v. Work Service, Inc., 3:16-cv-03257 (D.S.C. Nov. 27, 2018) (Staffing agency denied workers at turkey processing plant years of pay due to their intellectual and developmental disabilities). The EEOC sued a Newberry, South Carolina staffing agency under the ADA alleging that the agency denied wages to six workers at a turkey processing plant and subjected them to disparate terms and conditions of employment and a hostile work environment due to their intellectual and development disabilities. The suit was resolved through a five-year consent decree providing $342,000 to the six individuals and enjoining the company from discriminating against applicants or employees because of disabilities with regard to pay and terms and conditions of employment.
  • Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., 1:17-cv-3897 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 2018) (Cosmetics company provided new fathers less paid leave and related benefits for child bonding than it provided to new mothers). The EEOC sued Estee Lauder alleging that it provided male employees less paid leave for new-child bonding than it provided female employees, and denied male employees return-to-work benefits following the bonding period that were provided to female employees. The suit was resolved through a consent decree providing $1.1 million to about 200 affected individuals. The decree also required Estee Lauder to implement revised paid parental leave and back-to-work flexibility policies and benefits in a way that ensures equal benefits regardless of gender or caregiver status.
  • EEOC v. University of Denver, No. 1:16-cv-02471 (D. Colo. May 18, 2018) (Female full professors at the University’s Sturm College of Law were paid an average of nearly $20,000 less than their male counterparts). The EEOC sued the University of Denver alleging that it paid female full professors at its law school less than male full professors performing substantially equal work. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, salaries of female professors were, on average, $19,781 less than those of their male counterparts. Further, all the women’s salaries were below the average salary paid to men. The university had acknowledged the pay disparity in an earlier memo but failed to correct it. The suit was resolved by a six-year consent decree providing $2.66 million to seven female law school professors and requiring increases in their salaries. The decree also required the university to annually publish salary and compensation information for various faculty positions and to hire a labor economist to perform annual studies on pay equity.
  • EEOC v. Chas. S. Winner, Inc. d/b/a Winner Ford of Cherry Hill d/b/a Winner Ford, No. 1:16-06137 (D.N.J. Nov. 22, 2017) (Car dealership paid its Chinese technicians less than non-Chinese technicians). The EEOC sued a car dealership alleging that it paid its Chinese emergency and accessory installation (EAI) technicians a lower starting wage and hourly wage than non-Chinese EAI technicians at its Cherry Hill, NJ location. The dealership paid starting Chinese EAI technicians up to $3 less per hour than non-Chinese EAI Technicians, even though they did the same work and some of the non-Chinese technicians had less or no relevant experience. When a Chinese EAI technician complained about the wage disparity, he was reprimanded, and told that if he sought legal advice, he would be out of a job.  The suit was resolved by a three-year consent decree providing $150,000 in lost wages and other damages to the affected workers and requiring training to all managers and employees involved in setting wages or handling discrimination complaints.
  • EEOC v. Prince George's County, Maryland, No. 1:15-cv-02942 (D. Md. June 1, 2017) (Maryland county paid female engineer less than male engineers performing substantially equal work). The EEOC sued Prince George’s County in Maryland alleging it paid a female engineer less than male engineers performing equal work. Ms. Joanna Smith had a civil engineering degree and over five years of engineering experience when she was hired into the county’s Department of Environment in March 2012 as an Engineer III. She requested a starting salary of $88,000 to match her experience and education, but the county offered her only the lowest salary in the Engineer III range of $60,706 to $118,108, telling her that her salary was nonnegotiable. Two weeks later, the county hired a male into a comparable position and paid him his higher requested salary of $70,000. The county continued to promote and pay the male engineer a higher salary than Ms. Smith despite their performing substantially equal work. Following a hearing on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the court granted the EEOC summary judgment finding that the county had violated the EPA. Based on a three-year consent decree, Ms. Smith was provided $139,633.56 in lost wages and liquidated damages and the EEOC received $5,769.90 in costs. The decree also required the defendant to increase Ms. Smith’s annual salary by $24,723 to ensure parity with her male counterparts. Further, the defendant must hire a consultant, approved by the EEOC, to ensure that salary determinations are documented and supported by the record and not based on gender.

Amicus Briefs

  • Morgan v. United States Soccer Fedn., 25 F.4th 1102 (9th 2022) (amicus brief filed July 30, 2021). Plaintiffs-Appellants sued the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) under Title VII and the EPA, alleging that the USSF paid the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team (WNT) consistently less than it paid the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team (MNT) despite performing the same job responsibilities. The district court granted USSF’s motion as to the plaintiffs’ unequal pay claims. The court concluded that the WNT players failed to establish a prima facie case under the EPA because USSF paid the women more in total and per game when total compensation was divided by number of games each team played. In an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs, EEOC argued that by assuming all games are equal, whether World Cup or “friendly” match, the court ignored the WNT’s far greater success as a team and the fact that the WNT had to be significantly more successful than the MNT for its players to earn the same pay. In other words, any assessment of the players’ wage rate should have taken into account both the quantity of games—the total number—as well as quality of games—the importance, opponent ranking, and results of those games. Evidence that the women would have made significantly more had they been paid according to the men’s contract is evidence that USSF paid its men and women players unequal rates of pay that, absent a defense, would violate both the EPA and Title VII. The WNT settled with the USSF for a total of $24 million and an agreement that USSF will equalize pay between the men’s and women’s teams in all competitions in the next collective bargaining agreement. The settlement is not effective until a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified.
  • Rizo v. Yovino, 950 F.3d 1217 (9th Cir. 2020) (en banc) (amicus brief filed May 22, 2017). Plaintiff-Appellee Aileen Rizo sued the Fresno County Office of Education under the EPA, alleging that the office of education paid her substantially less than her male counterparts. The office of education moved for summary judgment arguing that it had established the EPA’s “factor other than sex” affirmative defense by showing that the female plaintiff was paid less than her male colleagues because of her salary history. The district court denied the office of education’s motion, holding that relying solely on prior wages would perpetuate a wage disparity between men and women. In an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff, EEOC argued prior pay alone cannot be considered “any factor other than sex” within the meaning of the EPA where it causes a gender-based disparity in pay. The en banc Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit concluded that an employer cannot rely on evidence that it used an employee’s prior pay to determine starting salary, even in combination with other factors, to counter an EPA claim. The court agreed with EEOC’s argument that because Congress sought “to eliminate deeply rooted pay discrimination between male and female employees who perform the same work,” through the EPA, it would be counterproductive to allow employers to rely on prior pay to justify wage disparities.