Recent decisions from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama demonstrate that the Equal Pay Act cannot be used to sue employers for wage disparities caused by discriminatory work assignments. See Crosby v. Massey Hauling, Co., No. 2:16-cv-00383-RDP, 2016 WL 6082047 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 18, 2016).
Generally, the Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of gender. An employer cannot discriminate “between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees … at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex …for equal work ….” 29 U.S.C. 206(d)(1). In Crosby, the plaintiff was a female truck driver. Her employer paid truck drivers based upon the materials hauled in the trucks. Most of the employer’s trucks were coal trucks, but the employer also used about seven dump trucks. The coal truck assignment were more lucrative for drivers than dump truck assignments. The Plaintiff alleged that she suffered wage discrimination because her employer always assigned her to dump truck jobs, while allowing men to drive the coal trucks.
United States District Court Judge R. David Proctor dismissed the plaintiff’s Equal Pay Act claim. He relied heavily upon an earlier opinion by Senior United States District Court Judge C. Lynwood Smith, Jr. in Caetio v. Spirit Coach, LLC, 992 F.Supp.2d 1199 (N.D. Ala. 2014). Judge Smith found that “the Equal Pay Act does not provide relief for allegations of discriminatory work assignments.” Caetio, 992 F.Supp.2d at 1213. Because the Plaintiff in Crosby was seeking to recover for disparities in pay caused by discriminatory work assignments between coal trucks and dump trucks, Judge Proctor dismissed the Equal Pay Act claim.
Judge Proctor’s decision was only a minor win for the employer. The plaintiff also filed a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which generally prohibits gender discrimination. Potentially, discriminatory work assignments could violate Title VII. The employer in Crosby did not seek dismissal of the Title VII claim, and that claim will proceed through the discovery process.