MONTPELIER -- Three female business managers in the state Department of Corrections went to court Wednesday to argue they were paid thousands of dollars less annually than a man in the same job, in violation of the state's equal-pay law.
Lawyers for, Lynne Silloway, Mary Bertrand and Lisa Deblois squared off against a state assistant attorney general who argued that the unnamed man's higher pay wasn't a result of gender bias, but other circumstances surrounding his hiring.
Assistant Attorney General David Groff said the hiring of the man identified only as "Mr. Doe" as a food service supervisor at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield in 2003 came because he was the most qualified among the applicants for the job.
While it's his fellow business managers who are suing, lawyers for the women said the pay imbalance began when Doe was first hired as a food service supervisor in 2003.
Doe's higher salary continued when he moved from food service supervisor to business manager at the prison in 2006, lawyers for both sides said. "It has ripple effects forever," said Emily Joselson, one of the lawyers representing the women.
Recently, the three women have been making between $6,400 and $10,200 per year less than Doe for doing the same or similar work, said Karen Richards, a lawyer and executive director of the state Human Rights Commission.
Doe's initial hiring came under a process in which state employees are often "hired into range," meaning they are offered a starting salary higher than the minimum for a given job based on their experience or other qualifications.
Steven Collier, general counsel with the Department of Human Resources said that practice allows the state to be more competitive with the private sector for good employees and to bring experienced people into its workforce.
When he came into state service, Doe had worked for 23 years in institutional food service in New Hampshire, Groff said. He had two degrees that fit the job qualifications very well, he added.
But when an agency like Corrections wants to make such a hire, it needs to document the special circumstances in a request to the Department of Human Resources, and lawyers for the women said that didn't happen.
"Now instead of acknowledging and correcting these violations, the state seeks to justify them," said a combined court filing by Joselson, Richards and St. Johnsbury-based lawyer David Sleigh. "However, no legitimate business reasons justify the state's pay equity violations, and therefore the state cannot meet its admittedly heavy burden of establishing that the violations were due to a ‘factor other than sex."'