Ninth Circuit Rules That Prior Salaries Cannot Justify Gender Pay Gaps

Ninth Circuit Rules That Prior Salaries Cannot Justify Gender Pay Gaps

Today is Equal Pay Day, and it follows yesterday’s decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Rizo v. Yovino, which ruled that employers cannot rely on employees’ past salaries to justify paying women less than men.  

The employee in Rizo was a female math consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education who was paid less than new male hires with less education and experience.  The County’s reasoning was that her pay was based on her prior salary.

Under the federal Equal Pay Act, employers generally cannot pay men and women differently for performing the same work, with certain exceptions.  Previously, the Court’s decisions had held that an employee’s past salary was a “factor other than sex” that employers could use to justify pay gaps between male and female employees.   

The Court’s ruling in Rizo this week overturned those decisions, holding instead that gender wage gaps cannot be justified by an employee’s prior salary alone, or even in combination with other factors.  The majority opinion, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt before his death last month, recognized that the gender wage gap had existed for decades and continues to exist today, with the gap costing women in the U.S. over $840 billion a year.

“If money talks, the message to women costs more than ‘just’ billions: women are told they are not worth as much as men,” wrote Judge Reinhardt. “Allowing prior salary to justify a wage differential perpetuates this message, entrenching in salary systems an obvious means of discrimination.”  Thus, allowing employers to consider prior salaries would be inconsistent with the Equal Pay Act.

At the state level, California’s Equal Pay Act had already prohibited employers from justifying pay differences based on sex, race, or ethnicity solely on the grounds of prior salary.   

Minami Tamaki LLP works to ensure that the rights of all workers are protected and that workers are treated fairly.  Both federal and California law mandate equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. If you believe you have experienced unequal pay or gender discrimination, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your workplace issues with you.  You may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.

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