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Court Rules Men Can Be Paid More Than Women If They Were Paid More at a Previous Job
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Equal pay

Summary: An appeals court ruled that women can be paid less than men for the same job if the man was paid more at a previous job and the company has policies to back it up.

A federal appeals court ruled that it is legal to pay people that do the same job less based on their work experience. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s finding that paying different wages because of one’s prior experience was discriminatory under the Equal Pay Act.


The Equal Pay Act was signed by President John F. Kennedy into law in 1963. The law prohibits employers from paying women less for equal work performed under similar working conditions. There are exemptions to this when merit, seniority, quality and quantity of work play a factor.

Critics view this decision as a blow to women being able to be paid equally to men for the same jobs. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Seng believed in 2015 that the act was discriminatory because the result of doing such had to be from gender bias. The three-judge panel disagreed, citing a ruling from 1982 that allowed employers to use past salary information to base current salary decisions as long as it was used reasonably and with a company policy to justify it. Judge Lynn Adelman wrote, “prior salary alone can be a ‘factor other than sex’ if the defendant shows that its use of prior salary was reasonable and effectuated a business policy.”

Stanford Law School gender equity law professor Deborah Rhode views the new ruling as an attack on women. She said, “This decision is a step in the wrong direction if we’re trying to really ensure that women have work opportunities of equal pay. You can’t allow prior discriminatory salary setting to justify future ones or you perpetuate the discrimination.” Rallies were held around the nation this past Equal Pay Day to draw attention to a perceived wage gap. Data from 2015 suggests that women earn 80 cents to every dollar that a man makes.

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The case came to the appeals court from a lawsuit brought by a California school employee. In 2012, Aileen Rizo learned that her male colleagues were making more money than she was. Rizo was hired by Fresno County public schools from a middle school in Arizona to be a math consultant. The county’s policy was to add 5 percent to her previous pay as a middle school math teacher. This increase was not enough to meet the minimum salary for her position so they gave her an addition bump up to $63,000 a year.

Her lawyer Dan Siegel said, “The logic of the decision is hard to accept. You’re OK’ing a system that perpetuates the inequity in compensation for women.”

The county contends that being able to base the starting pay using previous salaries eliminates favoritism, keeps things objective, and encourages consistency. Giving an additional 5 percent bump to a person’s current salary is a way of enticing candidates to join them and leave their current job.

The case will go back to Seng for reconsideration of the county’s reasons for using previous salaries as their starting point.

The county has since revised their policies when the California Equal Pay Act went into effect on January 1, 2016. The law prohibits employers from paying men and women different pay with the same qualifications.

Do you think the ruling is fair or discriminatory? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about equal pay rights, read these articles:




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