Female Plaintiff Plausibly Alleges Equal Pay Act Violations

In Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc., No. 14-CV-7509 SJF, 2015 WL 6507842 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2015), the court held that the female plaintiff stated a claim under the federal and New York state Equal Pay Acts.

The law, per the court:

The federal Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) prohibits employers from discriminating between employees on the basis of sex by paying different wages for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility[.] Unlike Title VII, the Equal Pay Act is a strict liability statute, and a plaintiff need not prove discriminatory intent. [T]he equal work inquiry does not demand evidence that a plaintiffs job is identical to a higher-paid position, but that the two positions are substantially equal. To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff may demonstrate that the two jobs share common duties or content, and do not simply overlap in titles or classifications. …

To state a claim under the Equal Pay Act, an employee must allege: [(1)] the employer pays different wages to employees of the opposite sex; [(2)] the employees perform equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility; and [(3)] the jobs are performed under similar working conditions. However, to survive a motion to dismiss, a discrimination complaint need not allege facts establishing each element of a prima facie case of discrimination[.] … [I]t must at a minimum assert nonconclusory factual matter sufficient to satisfy the [U.S. Supreme Court’s] Twombly–Iqbal plausibility standard.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged her gender-based unequal pay claims, and thus denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint under FRCP 12(b)(6):

Plaintiff’s complaint contains specific, nonconclusory allegations that she was paid less than the other five (5) male department heads at Systemax’s Port Washington headquarters, her male comparators. She has also pleaded numerous similarities between her job content and theirs, which, accepted as true, support a reasonable inference that her work is substantially equal to one (1) or more of her five (5) male comparators. …

Plaintiff has alleged specific facts to support her claims of unequal pay and that her job content encompasses the same common core of tasks as that of her male comparators. And while defendants assert differences between her job responsibilities, and those of her male comparators, this is a factual question that the Court cannot resolve at the pleadings stage. Defendants’ motion is denied as to plaintiff’s federal and New York state Equal Pay Act claims.

The court also held that plaintiff stated a retaliation claim:

[T]he Equal Pay Act’s anti-retaliation provision, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), requires only that a written and oral complaint be made with a degree of formality and that its content and context provide fair notice that a grievance has been lodged and does, or should, reasonably understand the matter as part of [the employer’s] business concerns. Intracompany complaints must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute and a call for their protection. Thus, plaintiff was not required to recite the elements of a prima facie Equal Pay Act claim in her complaints to her superiors, but only to give notice that she was asserting federal statutory rights.

Plaintiff complained to her immediate superior[] and to the company CEO[] via e-mail, stating that her pay should reflect her achievement, and mirror that of her male colleagues; she also complained to human resources of retaliation. As she was the only female vice-president at Systemax’s Port Washington office, her request for pay parity with her male counterparts, and complaint of retaliation, were not insufficient as a matter of law to place defendants on notice that plaintiff was asserting her legal rights under federal law.

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