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Court Upholds the Dismissal of Equal Pay Act Claims

In Vt Human Rights Commission et al. v. State et al., 2015 VT 138 (December 24, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of claims by female employees in the Vermont Departments of Corrections and Human Services under the equal pay provisions of Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act.

Issue: Plaintiffs appealed summary judgment against them, arguing that Defendants failed to establish that the pay difference between the male and female employees was due to a legitimate, non-gender based reason and that no rational jury could find to the contrary.

Background: The Vermont Human Rights Commission and three female employees sued the Vermont Departments of Corrections and Human Services, under the equal pay provisions of Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act, because a male employee was paid up to more than $10,000 more each year than female employees in the same job position. Defendants argued that that the pay differential was based on a bona fide reason other than sex, specifically that the male employee had been “hired-into-range” in another position, and later transferred.

Holding: The Court reviewed the permissible grounds for salary differentials. It held that the hire-into-range decision accounted for these permissible grounds and that contemporaneous evidence supported that these grounds were actually motivating factors for the decision. It also upheld the salary differential on the grounds that there was a unique business need motivating the salary decision. It declined to decide whether salary matching is a permissible reason for a salary differential. It also concluded that there was no evidence that the hire-in-range process perpetuated gender differentials. It held that the lower court did not improperly shift the burden of proof to the plaintiffs. Lastly, the Court rejected arguments regarding Defendants’ failure to follow the statutes and policies for the hiring process and the existence of questions of fact.

Langrock attorneys Emily Joselson, Kevin Brown, and Katie Kramer represented two of the plaintiff-appellants in the case.

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