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In An Equal Pay Act Case, Jobs With The Same Title Are Not Necessarily Comparable

The federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) requires that males and females receive “equal pay for equal work.” In EEOC v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 768 F.3d 247 (2d Cir. 2014), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleged that an employer paid its female non-supervisory attorneys less than male attorneys in the same job classification, in violation of the EPA.  A federal trial court in Manhattan summarily dismissed the EEOC’s suit, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, holding that the EEOC failed to state an EPA claim because it failed to show “the actual content of the work done by the dozens of attorneys either within or across practice areas” at the employer.  Instead, the EEOC alleged only “in conclusory fashion, that all of the non-supervisory attorney jobs in the [employer’s] law department are substantially equivalent and require the same skill, effort, and responsibility.”


In the court’s words:


[T]he EEOC alleged that the [employer] required all of its non-supervisory attorneys to have similar “experience, training, education, or ability,” bar admission, and the capacity to call upon “problem solving and analytical skills” as well as “professional judgment.” However, such bland abstractions – untethered from allegations regarding [the employer’s] attorneys’ actual job duties – say nothing about whether the attorneys were required to perform “substantially equal” work.  Thus, the EEOC’s complaint provides no guidance as to whether the attorneys handled complex commercial matters or minor slip and falls, negotiated sophisticated lease and financing arrangements or responded to employee complaints, conducted research for briefs or drafted multimillion dollar contracts.  The EEOC asserts that such allegations are unnecessary because “all lawyers perform the same or similar function(s)” and that “most legal jobs involve the same ‘skill….’”  But accepting such a sweeping generalization as adequate to state a claim under the EPA might permit lawsuits against any law firm – or, conceivably, any type of employer – that does not employ a lockstep pay model. Without more, these facts cannot be read to raise the EEOC’s “substantially equal” work claim “above the speculative level.”