Female employees sue state over alleged pay inequity


The state of Vermont is defending itself against claims of unequal pay between men and women.

In a summary judgment hearing Wednesday in Washington Superior Court, Judge Helen Toor heard arguments from lawyers representing three female business managers with the Department of Corrections, joined in the suit by the Vermont Human Rights Commission. Their allegations were defended, on behalf of the departments of Corrections and Human Resources, by counsel from the state's Attorney General's Office.

Attorneys Karen Richards and Emily Joselon presented the case of plaintiffs Lynne Silloway, Mary Bertrand and Lisa DeBlois. The state violated its own policies first in 2003, when it boosted the pay of a newly hired male employee, Joselon said.

Rather than join the public sector at the standard pay rate for the job, "Mr. Doe" was brought in as if he had 18.5 years of state employment under his belt.

The sweetener was meant as an incentive to get Doe into place quickly. Doe deserved the salary bump because of his experience and the exigent hiring circumstances, the Department of Corrections said at the time. The Department of Human Resources agreed, giving DOC the green light to hire Doe "in-range."

The warden who hired him failed to consider the impact the pay disparity would have on incumbent workers in the same position, Joselon charged.

That should have been considered again in 2006, when Doe moved from food service supervisor to business manager, she said.

Toor said there is a lack of evidence that the warden ever offered Doe the position at the standard entry-level rate.

Three years after his initial hire, when Doe moved into a more senior managerial role in the business office, the state should have looked back at the justification for his elevated salary, the plaintiffs charge. It was his pay rate in the business office that triggered the equal pay lawsuit.

If it had been deemed legitimate and Doe was considered the best candidate for the new job, DOC could have raised the salaries of his counterparts commensurate with their own experience, Joselon argued. Or if Doe's qualifications for the new job didn't justify the raise, DOC could have chosen not to hire him as a business manager, she said.

Doe's initial hire had adverse impacts on the salaries of both male and female counterparts, Joselon said. Three years later, his second hire -- or promotion, as the state frames it -- affected only women.

To assume that implies a gender-based pay inequity is a leap, Assistant Attorney General David Groff said.

He said Doe's qualifications and the quick turnaround needed to get him into place more than justified his starting pay grade. Once set, other state policies kept his raises pegged to that level, Groff said.

The Equal Pay Act is designed to curb subsequent and cumulative impacts from any pay disparity, Toor said.

At this point, Toor can issue summary judgment in the plaintiff's favor, rule in favor of the state, or decide the facts need more investigation.


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