TOP TIP: No, You May Not Pay Her Less Because Her Husband Works!
This was the (obvious?) message delivered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in reviving a teacher’s pay discrimination claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.
In Kellogg v. Ball State Univ., the school articulated several non-discriminatory reasons for why the female teacher was paid less than male counterparts, such as salary compression and qualification differences. Crediting these reasons, the district court threw out the claims on summary judgment, and the teacher appealed.
In reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the Seventh Circuit pointed to the teacher’s starting salary negotiations 12 years prior, in which the school’s co-Executive Director refused to increase her pay and, according to the teacher, commented that she did not need any more money because her husband worked at the school, so “they would have a fine salary.” The Seventh Circuit found that the teacher “suffered the effects of this outdated and improper approach to her starting pay” throughout her 12-year tenure. The fact that it was said well outside the statute of limitations period (i.e. the time period during which a claim may be brought) did not matter, because under the paycheck accrual rule, a plaintiff suffers actionable harm with each affected paycheck within the limitations period.
This case reminds employers to focus on the value of the role and the employee’s qualifications in determining pay, rather than the individual personal circumstances of the employee unrelated to their performance of the job. This is the approach that many states and local jurisdictions are taking in enacting salary history bans and pay transparency laws, which are intended to address the longstanding issues with pay discrimination that many women face.