Women claim gender discrimination
MONTPELIER — A civil court judge heard arguments Wednesday in a case in which three women are suing the Department of Corrections for gender discrimination because they were paid less than a male counterpart.
Judge Helen Toor listened to legal arguments in a case brought by the state Human Rights Commission, which claims Corrections and the Department of Human Resources violated federal and state statutes by paying a male employee as much as $10,200 more than his female counterparts.
“The federal Equal Pay Act has been in effect for 50 years, but despite this, Vermont women earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by men,” said Karen Richards, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.
She said women over 35 years old in Vermont are earning 75 cents for every dollar earned by men.
The case compares the salaries of three women — plaintiffs Mary Bertrand, Lisa DeBlois and Lynne Silloway — who hold the position of administrative services coordinator with the Department of Corrections against a man who holds the same position.
Court documents say both Bertrand and Silloway have more seniority than the man — referred to in court documents as “Mr. Doe” — but Silloway was paid $10,000 less per year and Bertrand was paid $6,400 less per year.
DeBlois, who was promoted to her position 45 days after Doe was hired, was paid $10,200 a year less than Doe, court records state.
The collective bargaining agreement covering state employees allows the state to deviate from the step-scale salary schedule — which is governed by seniority and experience — when there is a shortage of qualified candidates, a candidate has special qualifications of unique value or if the candidate is so exceptional that not hiring him or her would be detrimental to the state.
“Mr. Doe” was hired by Corrections at the last minute as a food services supervisor in 2003, shortly before the opening of Springfield prison, court records show. He had a college degree and 23 years of experience in the private sector, and was hired at a pay rate higher than dictated by the pay schedule under the collective bargaining agreement.
In 2006, he was promoted to administrative services coordinator — the same position held by the plaintiffs — and when promoted, he kept his higher salary, court records state.
Under the federal Equal Pay Act and the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act, a plaintiff is not required to prove that an employer intended to discriminate against an employee by offering a wage that is lower than their male or female counterparts.
Richards argued that, rather than hire the man at the higher pay rate, the state could have chosen to not hire him or to raise the salaries of the female employees to match.
Representing the state, Assistant Attorney General David Groff said remedying a disparity in pay between men and women is not one of the methods used to raise salaries under the collective bargaining agreement.
Richards argued that the collective bargaining agreement shouldn’t take precedence over federal and state laws that require equal pay for men and women.
Toor will issue a written decision in the future.
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