U.S. Supreme Court Vacates Major Appeals Court Decision in Equal Pay Case Due to Death of Judge

U.S. Supreme Court Vacates Major Appeals Court Decision in Equal Pay Case Due to Death of Judge

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On February 25, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States vacated a “major” Appeals Court decision in Yovino v. Rizo (18-272) which ruled in favor of a woman in an equal pay claim made against Fresno County in California because a judge died before the decision he authored in the case was issued.

Supreme Court Equal Pay Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to allow U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt – who died of a heart attack at the age of 87 on March 29, 2018 – to participate in the ruling which took place 11 days later on April 9, 2018 – one day before Equal Pay Day on April 10 in 2018.

“That practice effectively allowed a deceased judge to exercise the judicial power of the United States after his death. But federal judges are appointed for life, not for eternity,” the Supreme Court stated in granting a petition for certiorari and remanding the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

As reported earlier by ESR News, plaintiff Aileen Rizo sued defendant Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino – first erroneously sued as the Fresno County Office of Education – after discovering her yearly salary was $13,000 less than a male co-worker who had the same job title but less education and experience.

In what was described as a “major court decision,” the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals ruled that employers cannot pay women less than men for the same work based on their salary history since that would “allow employers to capitalize on the persistence of the wage gap and perpetuate that gap ad infinitum.”

The decision overturned a 2017 ruling where the Ninth Circuit Court agreed using salary history when calculating a salary was allowed under The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, a federal law prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women who perform equal jobs in the same workplace.

The late Judge Reinhardt wrote in the 52-page opinion: “The question before us is also simple: can an employer justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary? Based on the text, history, and purpose of the Equal Pay Act, the answer is clear: No.”

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed women earned 80 percent of what men earned in 2015. The gender wage gap has narrowed by less than one-half a penny per year in the United States since 1963, when Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

Equal pay laws exist in the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Louisville, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, and states such as California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Laws prohibiting employers from seeking salary history information will increase as the equal pay movement spreads to narrow the gender wage gap spreads and was chosen by background check firm Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) as one of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” in 2019.

“If new pay is based on previous pay, then gender pay gaps are perpetuated. The goal of equal pay laws is to base compensation on the work performed and not rely on previous pay that may reflect gender discrimination,” according to ESR founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Attorney Lester Rosen.

“When an employer has a background screening firm perform past employment verifications, it is critical that firm knows which states and cities prohibit such questions as well as software that facilitates compliance or else that employer could be fined,” explained Rosen, author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual.’

ESR Employment Verifications Comply with Equal Pay Laws

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – a leading global background check firm – offers employment verifications that provide applicant pay rate only if permitted by the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and state and local laws. To learn more, visit www.esrcheck.com/Background-Checks/Verifications-References/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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