UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

SOUTHERN DIVISION

CHRISTINE GEERTS

File No. 1:98-CV-696

Plaintiff,

v.

II STANLEY CO., INC.,

HON. ROBERT HOLMES BELL

Defendant.

ORDER AND JUDGMENT

In accordance with the opinion entered this date,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant II Stanley Co., Inc. 's motion for summary judgment (Docket # 23)

is GRANTED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that JUDGMENT is entered in favor of Defendant II Stanley Co., Inc., and this

action is DISMISSED in its entirety.

Date: September 14, 1999

ROBERT HOLMES BELL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

SOUTHERN DIVISION

CHRISTINE GEERTS

File No. 1:98-CV-696

Plaintiff,

v.

II STANLEY CO., INC.,

HON. ROBERT HOLMES BELL

Defendant.

OPINION

Plaintiff Christine Geerts filed this action against her employer, II Stanley Co., Inc., alleging violation of the Equal Pay Act. This matter is currently before the Court on II Stanley's motion for summary judgment.

I.

Plaintiff was hired at II Stanley in 1988 as an hourly worker. In October 1995, Mark Vernon was hired by II Stanley as a Production Control Administrator ("PCA") at a starting salary of $33, 000. Approximately five months later, on February 11, 1996, Plaintiff was promoted to an equivalent position as a PCA with a starting salary of $32,000.

After learning that Vernon was being paid a higher salary, Plaintiff complained about the pay difference to her supervisors.

 

 

 

Eventually, Ted Cline, Section Manager of II Stanley's Human Resources Department, conducted an investigation of the pay differential and concluded that although Plaintiff's and Vernon's positions, tasks and performance reviews were basically the same, there were major differences in their backgrounds: Vernon had more training, education, and related work and managerial experience. Cline accordingly recommended no change in Plaintiff's salary.

Plaintiff filed this action alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment.

II.

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the Court must look beyond the pleadings and assess the proof to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). If Defendant carries its burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim, then Plaintiff must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material

2

fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986).

In determining a motion for summary judgment the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party and draws all justifiable inferences in her favor. Morales v. American Honda Motor co., 71 F.3d 531, 535 (6th Cir. 1995). Nevertheless, the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of Plaintiff's position is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The proper inquiry is whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Plaintiff. Id. See generally, Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1476-80 (6th Cir. 1989).

III.

The Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination between employees on the basis of sex

for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are

performed under similar working conditions.

29 U.S.C. 206(d).

To establish a prima facie violation of the Equal Pay Act, a plaintiff must show that the employer paid different wages to an

3

employee of the opposite sex for substantially equal work.

For purposes of this motion Defendant does not deny that Plaintiff's and Vernon's jobs required equal skill, effort and responsibility and were performed under similar working conditions. Thus, Plaintiff is deemed to have made out a prima facie case of wage discrimination.1

Once the plaintiff establishes her prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to show that the differential is justified under the Act. The Equal Pay Act establishes four exceptions to liability where different payment for equal work is based upon

(i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.

29 U.S.C. 206(d). See also Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 196 (1974). "The burden of proving that a factor other than sex is the basis for a wage differential is a heavy one. If proven, though, the defendant is absolved of liability as a matter

 

 

_________________

1The wage discrimination alleged in this case is limited to the disparity in starting salaries. Plaintiff has acknowledged that the problem is not in her post-hiring treatment. She does not claim disparity in bonuses and raises since she was promoted to PCA.

4

of law." Timmer v. Michigan Dep't of Commerce, 104 F.3d 833, 843 (6th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted).

In its defense to this action, Defendant relies on the fourth exception, the general catchall provision, that the differential in starting salaries was based on factors other than sex. Specifically, Defendant contends that the differential was based on differences in the two individuals, hiring circumstances, requested salary, prior salary history, education, training, and experience.

The Equal Pay Act's broad catch-all exception "embraces an almost limitless number of factors, so long as they do not involve sex." Dey v. Colt Const. & Development Co., 28 F.3d 1446, 1462 (7th Cir. 1994). When a company negotiates a different starting salary comparable to what the individual earned at a previous job, the pay differential is based upon a factor other than sex. Id. "A differential that is based on education or experience is a factor other than sex recognized by the Equal Pay Act." Hutchins v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 177 F.3d 1076, 1081 (8th Cir. 1999). An employer's argument that a wage disparity was due to a mistake is also a defense within the fourth exception of the Act. Timmer, 104 F.3d at 843. Salary differentials that stem from unequal starting salaries do not violate the EPA if the original

5

disparity is justified by a legitimate factor other than sex.. Hein v. Oregon College of Educ., 718 F.2d 910, 920 (9th Cir. 1983).

Defendant has presented substantial evidence that the difference in starting salaries was based upon a number of factors other than sex. Defendant has presented evidence that its method for calculating starting salaries differs depending upon whether the candidate is hired from the outside or is promoted internally from an hourly position. When Defendant hires from the outside, it considers the individual's asking price and compares it to the salary range for the position, the individual's work experience, and the individual's prior salary. For internal promotions from hourly to salary positions, the company's policy was to take the annual hourly base rate and then make an upward adjustment. Because Vernon was an external hire and Plaintiff was an internal promotion from an hourly position, their starting salaries were arrived at using different methodologies.

Defendant has presented evidence that while Vernon was hired to fill a vacant position, in a tight market, Plaintiff was hired in anticipation of future need. Defendant has also come forward with evidence that Vernon had more experience with customer service, that he asked for a higher salary, that he had a higher

6

salary history,2 and that the company understood that he had graduated from community college.

Plaintiff has not come forward with any evidence that the factors articulated by Defendant were not in fact the factors considered by Defendant in setting Plaintiff's and Vernon's starting salaries. She has not come forward with any evidence that would suggest that Defendant did not in fact apply the factors in the manner articulated. Instead, in her attempt to raise a question of fact as to the basis for the wage differential, Plaintiff relies on evidence that Vernon's education was not better than hers, and that her experience within the company was more relevant than Vernon's outside experience.

Even if Plaintiff were correct in her argument that she was in fact better qualified as a PCA, such proof does not in itself undermine the legitimacy of Defendant's proffered reasons for the pay differential. Whether or not Plaintiff is actually more qualified is not the issue. The manner in which Defendant calculates salaries for internal as opposed to external hires, and the amount of credit to be given for internal work experience, are

 

 

___________________

2 Although Vernon earned only $31,200 per annum at his most recent employment at Advantage Sintered Metals, he had been earning $41,600 per annum at his previous job with Bear Metals.

7

matters of business judgment. It is not the province of this Court to second-guess the employer's business judgment. Dey, 28 F.3d at 1462. The factors considered by the company in setting the starting salaries need not be related to the requirements of the particular position in question, nor must they even be business-related. Id. All this Court asks is "whether the factor is bona fide, whether it has been discriminatorily applied, and in some circumstances, whether it may have a discriminatory effect." Id.

Plaintiff has not shown that the factors articulated by Defendant were not bona fide, that they were discriminatorily applied, or that they had a discriminatory effect. Neither has Plaintiff shown any inconsistencies in Defendant's explanations for the starting salary differential. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that when her request for a salary increase was declined she was told by Cline and Bowen that Vernon was paid more because he had more education and experience, and that they had to pay more for people from the outside. These are essentially the same arguments Defendant is raising today. Under the Equal Pay Act Plaintiff is not required to prove pretext. Nevertheless, she still must come forward with evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact. Timmer, 104 F.3d at 844. She has not done so.

8

Plaintiff has come forward with no evidence to contradict the employer's proof that sex provided no part of the basis for the wage differential. Her disagreement with Defendant's business judgment does not create a triable issue of fact.

Defendant has met its burden of providing a nondiscriminatory basis for the pay differential between Plaintiff and Vernon. The record shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and Defendant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

An order and judgment consistent with this opinion will be entered.

Date: September 14, 1999

ROBERT HOLMES BELL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

9