High Court Victory for Equal Pay

July 2. 2020

For Immediate Release
Jul 2, 2020

Media Contact
Jess Eagle, Communications Manager
Equal Rights Advocates
(717) 574-2702
[email protected]

San Francisco, CA – Handing a major victory to millions of women workers, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to consider the case of Fresno County, California, math consultant Aileen Rizo, who sued the school district where she worked when she discovered men in similar jobs were paid significantly more than her for similar work. The district justified her lower pay because her compensation was based on the salary she made at her previous job. 

In 2020, women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, more than half are the primary breadwinners in their households, and they receive more than half of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Yet, on average, women continue to earn less than men across all education levels and in virtually every occupation in this country. In 2019, women working full time, year round, typically made just 82 cents to every dollar paid to their male counterparts. For women of color, the wage gaps are even larger. Collectively, the gender wage gap costs women in the U.S. over $840 billion a year.

Studies show that women earn less than men from the outset of their careers. Therefore, relying on prior salary allows pay discrimination to follow women and people of color from job to job, resulting in a lifetime of lost wages, less income for families, and higher rates of poverty.

This is the second time the case (Rizo v. Yovino) has made it to the high court. The justices sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year on procedural grounds. Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit again held that “prior salary alone or in combination with other factors, cannot serve as a defense to an Equal Pay Act claim” and that employers must “demonstrate that only job-related factors, not sex, caused any wage disparities that exist between employees of the opposite sex who perform equal work.” 

Equal Rights Advocates represented 21 amici organizations in support of Plaintiff Rizo before the Ninth Circuit. Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy Jessica Stender, who argued before an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit in this case, released a statement today:

Fifty-seven years after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act, women across the board continue to earn substantially less than their male counterparts in this country. This contributes to higher rates of poverty for women and their families and is particularly detrimental to women of color. In holding that employers cannot rely on prior salary, either alone or in combination with other factors, to justify gender-based pay disparities, the Ninth Circuit provided important clarification that employers can only rely on job-related, non-sex-based factors to justify paying a woman less than a man for performing the same job. This holding is consistent with the intent of Congress in passing the Equal Pay Act and takes us one important step closer to achieving pay equity for women. We are thrilled with this development. We cannot afford to wait another 57 years.

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