Equal Pay Act Claim Survives Summary Judgment, Continues Against Xerox

In McCullough v. Xerox Corp., No. 12-CV-6405L, 2016 WL 7229134 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2016), an upstate federal district court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to her Equal Pay Act (EPA) claim arising out of her employment as a Human Resources Manager.

The court summarized the law applicable to plaintiff’s unequal pay claims under the EPA:

EPA claims are analyzed under a burden-shifting framework that is similar in some ways to that employed for claims under Title VII. To establish a prima facie claim under the EPA, a plaintiff must plead and prove that: (1) the employer pays different wages to persons of the opposite sex; (2) the employees perform equal work in positions requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility; and (3) the jobs are performed under similar working conditions. In determining whether a plaintiff has met the demanding standard to show that positions require similar skill, effort and responsibility, the Court must focus upon the congruity and equality of actual job content, and not job title or description. As such, broad generalizations drawn from job titles, classifications, or divisions, and conclusory assertions of … discrimination, cannot suffice. While summary judgment dismissing an EPA claim based on a plaintiff’s failure to prove substantial equivalence may be appropriate where the undisputed facts establish that the positions at issue are manifestly unequal, where the salient facts are disputed, [substantial equivalence] for Equal Pay Act purposes is a question for the jury.

If the plaintiff makes out a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the wage disparity is justified by: (1) a merit system; (2) a seniority system; (3) a system which measures earnings by the quantity or quality of production; or (4) a differential based on any factor other than sex, adopted for a legitimate business reason.

Following such proof by the employer, the plaintiff may seek to demonstrate that the reasons the employer has advanced for its actions are actually a pretext for sex-based discrimination.

In support of her successful EPA claim, plaintiff proposed several male comparators, who she claimed were HR managers with the same basic duties that she had.

In allowing her claim to proceed, the court explained:

Xerox points out that, to varying extents, each of these comparators differed from plaintiff in terms of education, work experience and tenure. Nonetheless, the evidence that the parties have submitted on this issue suggests that the remaining comparators performed functions that are sufficiently like plaintiff’s that a reasonable trier of fact might find that their positions were substantially similar. According to personnel assessments and other documentation of record, the job duties, skills, responsibilities and working conditions of the various Human Resources Managers centered around office-based development and implementation of employee training and advancement programs, the assessment and analysis of staffing needs and implementation of staffing restructures or reductions, performance assessments, hiring and firing, employee compensation (including outsourcing and recruitment), and management responsibility for projects related to these areas. Of course, [a]pplication of the EPA hinges on actual job content rather than the employer’s job descriptions, but to the extent that the record contains evidence concerning Xerox Human Resource Managers’ duties and Xerox’s expectations and assessment of their performance of those duties, it narrowly suffices to raise a question of fact as to whether their jobs all involved the same common core of tasks, and were therefore substantially equal for purposes of the EPA. The ultimate resolution of that question of fact is appropriately reserved for a jury.

It dismissed her Title VII race and sex discrimination claims, as well her EPA claim arising out of her participation in Xerox’s “Black Belt Program”.

In dismissing plaintiff’s Title VII claims, the court explained: “It is well settled that claims of disparities in pay, without more, are insufficient to demonstrate discriminatory animus, and plaintiff has produced no direct or circumstantial evidence of sex-based or race-based animus, such as evidence of derogatory remarks, toleration of offensive language or racial slurs, or other discriminatory actions by Xerox.”

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