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Appeals court rules employers can use prior salary to justify paying women less

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, PDF] on Thursday that calculating salaries based solely on prior salaries does not violate the Equal Pay Act [text] even when it results in women being paid less than men for the same job. The case involves a math consultant working for a school district in Fresno County. The county's salary policy dictates that the starting salary of new employees is the employee's previous salary plus 5%. After working for three years at the school district, she found that her salary was lower than all the other male math consultants, even one who had just started. The court ruled that a pay differential based on prior salary can be maintained only if its use of the prior salary "effectuates some business policy" and it is used "reasonably in light of the employer's stated purpose as well as its other practices." The lower court had previously denied the county's request for summary judgment stating "a pay structure based exclusively on prior wages is so inherently fraught with the risk . . . that it will perpetuate a discriminatory wage disparity between men and women that it cannot stand, even if motivated by a legitimate nondiscriminatory business purpose.

Equal treatment in the workplace has been an ongoing issue in the United States for many years. Earlier this month, the Office of Inspector General released [JURIST report] an investigative report on allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Yellowstone National Park. On April 7th, the U.S. Department of Labor accused [JURIST report] Google of engaging in compensation discrimination against female employees. Additionally, In January, the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Oracle America, Inc. alleging [JURIST report] that the company engaged in a systemic practice of paying their Caucasian male workers more than other employees. Furthermore, in March of 2016 five members of the US women's soccer team filed [JURIST report] an equal pay complaint against the US Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Steps have been taken to remedy some of the equal treatment issues, specifically among women. In January, the Mayor of Philadelphia passed a law [JURIST report] barring employers from asking applicants about their past salaries. This law was designed to decreased the wage gap between men and women. New York City and the state legislatures of New Jersey and Pennsylvania are also considering similar measures.

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