CA teacher triumphs in fight against discriminatory pay practices

For many workers, their experience and education will not be the determining factor in how much they will make. In fact, their credentials could be entirely irrelevant in the salary that they will be offered. How can that be?

Here’s a look at how employers have been legally permitted to offer qualified employees lessor salaries solely based on their pay history.

Prior salary histories could mean less pay

It isn’t unheard of for employees with less experience and education to be paid more for the same work based on their prior salaries. This was the case for a California educator who discovered that her salary was $13,000 less than a male co-worker. Not only did the co-worker have less formal education and experience than her, but he was hired at a later date.

Infuriated, she confronted her employer to no avail. Her employer stated that they could pay her less because she had reported lower prior earnings when she was hired – a practice that was completely legal. 

California teacher sues in fight for equal salary

The teacher filed suit against the Fresno County Office of Education citing violations of the Equal Pay Act. Her attorneys argued that such practices trap disadvantaged employees, predominately women, in a cycle of institutional pay discrimination. According to the suit, countless female employees like the defendant will spend their entire careers fighting for equal pay, but many of them will not succeed unless the law changes.

In a landmark victory, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge agreed. The opinion stated that such wage laws not only perpetuate the wage gap, but that they are in clear violation of the Equal Pay Act. Moving forward, employers in the circuit will be barred from inquiring about an applicant’s prior pay.

What does the ruling mean for employees in Texas?

Unfortunately, the ruling is not binding for states nationwide. The decision will only affect states and territories in the Ninth circuit – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. But that doesn’t mean that Texans are out of luck. Throughout history, circuit court rulings have been influential to lawmakers in other jurisdictions. Currently, there are 10 states that have made it a crime for employers to base compensation on past earnings. Equal rights activists remain hopeful that other states will soon follow suit.

Though the Equal Pay Act was enacted nearly sixty years ago, the fight still continues for it to be enforced. Employees who do the same work deserve the same pay, with no exceptions. For now, we will just have to wait for the law to catch up.

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