Pay Discrimination Claims Sufficiently Alleged Against Charter Communications d/b/a Spectrum

In Torre et al v. Charter Communications, Inc. d/b/a Spectrum, 2020 WL 5982684 (S.D.N.Y. October 8, 2020), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged her disparate-pay discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

After summarizing the black-letter law governing these claims, the court explained:

Torre raises a plausible claim under the Equal Pay Act and the NYEPL. The Complaint alleges that Torre “has been dramatically underpaid relative to her male daily on-air counterparts who have common roles and/responsibilities, including anchoring a news program on NY1.” Compl. ¶ 256; see ECF No. 48 (“Pls.’ Opp’n”), at 23. In particular, Torre identifies Kiernan as an example of “a male comparator who has worked at NY1 for less time than her,” has “similar responsibilities” as the anchor of a mid-week program, yet is “paid substantially more,” id. (citing Compl. ¶¶ 256-57); see Compl. ¶ 257 (alleging that Torre’s salary “is less than half that of Mr. Kiernan”); see also, e.g., Isbell v. City of New York, 316 F. Supp. 3d 571, 589 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (holding that identification of a single comparator suffices at the pleading stage). Contrary to Charter’s contentions, the fact that Kiernan leads the “most watched mid-week show” is not sufficient at this stage to defeat her claim. Def.’s Mem. 22 (quoting Compl. ¶¶ 121-22); cf. Craven, 2020 WL 2765694, at *5, 7 (holding that the defendants’ arguments rationalizing the plaintiff’s differential pay were insufficient to dismiss Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims at the pleading stage). Instead, Torre’s “allegations that she was paid less than” Kiernan “and that that her responsibilities were similar” to his — at least in terms of the time they spend on air and preparing — “are sufficient to state an Equal Pay Act claim.” Craven, 2020 WL 2765694, at *7; see Compl. ¶¶ 113, 257-60, 357.

For similar reasons, Torre alleges plausible disparate-pay claims under Title VII, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL. There is no dispute that Torre (and the other Plaintiffs, for that matter) satisfy the first two prongs of the prima facie test. As to the third, satisfaction of the Equal Pay Act’s unequal-pay-for-equal-work standard is sufficient (although not necessary) to establish an adverse employment action. See Lenzi, 944 F.3d at 110; Butterfield-Bajinan v. City of New York, No. 16-CV-5919 (RJS), 2017 WL 4045175, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2017) (Sullivan, J.). And finally, Torre satisfies her “minimal burden” of alleging facts “suggesting an inference of discriminatory motivation” for this action. Vega, 801 F.3d at 85 (internal quotation marks omitted). Among other things, Torre alleges that “similarly situated … male colleague[s]” were “paid more than she was, despite having [similar] responsibilities and equal or lesser credentials.” Craven, 2020 WL 2765694, at *5. Additionally, Torre’s allegations that Charter consistently showed favoritism towards Kiernan “provide ‘relevant background evidence’ by shedding light on Defendant’s motivation.” Vega, 801 F.3d at 88 (quoting Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 112 (2002)); see also Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 312 (“An inference of discrimination can arise from circumstances including, but not limited to, … the more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group ….” (internal quotation marks omitted)). “Taken together, these allegations create a ‘mosaic’ of information supporting an inference of discrimination.” Craven, 2020 WL 2765694, at *5 (quoting Vega, 801 F.3d at 86-87). Accordingly, Charter’s motion to dismiss Torre’s disparate-pay claims is denied.

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