Currently, women earn, on average, 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion aimed at decreasing pay inequity between men and women: Rizo v. Yovino, 887 F.3d 453 (9th Cir. 2018). In Rizo, the Court held that prior salary alone, or in combination with other factors, cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees.
The plaintiff in Rizo, Aileen Rizo, was a math consultant in the Fresno County Office of Education. At the time Rizo was hired as a math consultant in 2009, her salary was determined by the County’s standard operating procedure, which dictated that a new hire’s salary was to be calculated by taking that person’s prior salary, adding 5%, and placing the new hire on the corresponding step of the salary schedule. In 2012, Rizo learned that her male colleagues had been hired as math consultants at higher salary steps.Rizo filed a lawsuit against the County alleging, among other things, violations of the Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace receive equal pay for equal work. In its ruling, the Court held that prior salary is not job related and does not fall within an exception to the Equal Pay Act. Thus, the Court determined that the County’s reliance on Rizo’s prior salary was inappropriate because “[a]llowing an employer to justify a wage differential between men and women on the basis of prior salary is wholly inconsistent with the provisions of the Equal Pay Act.”While the Rizo case sets forth a new general rule, it is yet to be seen how courts will apply that rule under varying circumstances. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is in contrast to other Circuits, which allow compensation history to be considered when setting employee salaries. That means that this issue could work its way to the Supreme Court.
However, until the Supreme Court weighs in on this issue, most Arizona employees will enjoy the protections afforded by the Rizodecision, which is a big step in equalizing pay rates between women and men.
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