$145K Settlement in EEOC’s Equal Pay Suit Against Suburban Washington, D.C. Suburb

Equal pay for equal work is the law of the land but the battle for equal pay frequently plays out case-by-case in the courts.

The latest example: an expensive settlement of an equal pay suit reached yesterday between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Prince George’s County, Md., a suburb of the nation’s capital.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Joanna Smith had a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and more than five years of engineering experience when she was hired for an Engineer III position with Prince George’s County’s Department of Environment (DOE). The EEOC said the county rebuffed Smith’s efforts to negotiate a higher starting salary matching her experience and education, but just two weeks later, hired a male for a comparable Engineer III position and paid him the higher salary he requested, even though they were performing substantially equal work.

Prince George’s County also promoted and paid a male Engineer III a higher salary than Smith, and paid another male Engineer II higher wages than Smith, even though he had less experience and performed less complex duties, the EEOC charged. Smith continues to work as an Engineer IV within the county’s DOE.

On March 21, after an earlier hearing on the EEOC’s and Prince George’s County’s summary judgment motions, U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus ruled in favor of the EEOC, finding that the county paid Smith lower wages than it paid to male colleagues performing equal work, in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA).

In addition to the $139,633 in lost wages and liquidated damages to Smith, and $5,769 in costs to the EEOC, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins Prince George’s County from engaging in sex-based wage discrimination in the future. The county will increase Smith’s salary by $24,723 to ensure parity with her male comparators. The county will also hire a consultant, who will ensure that the DOE’s compensation policies and procedures, and individual salary determinations, comply with the EPA. The consultant will provide training on federal anti-discrimination laws to the county’s position review board members and all managers and supervisors within the DOE. Prince George’s County will also report to the EEOC on how it handles any complaints of sex-based wage discrimination and post a notice regarding the settlement.

“We filed this lawsuit because Prince George’s County not only refused Ms. Smith’s efforts to negotiate a higher salary commensurate with her experience and education, it then continually paid her less than it paid her male colleagues even though she did equal, and in some cases, more complex and superior work,” said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Maria Salacuse. “The court’s ruling confirmed that the county’s rationale for the disparity was unsupported by the record.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “Unfortunately, the wage gap between male and female workers continues to exist in all industries. The EEOC will take vigorous action against any employers, whether public or private, who engage in such blatant pay discrimination.”

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. noted, “Fairness and federal law mandate equal pay for equal work.”

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