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Court tosses EEOC suit over equal attorney pay at Port Authority


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claimed that male and female attorneys working at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were paid unequally, but failed to analyze their different job duties, says an appeals court, in upholding dismissal of the agency's lawsuit.

The EEOC filed suit against the New York-based Port Authority in 2010 after a three-year investigation, asserting the authority paid its female nonsupervisory attorneys at a lesser rate than their male counterparts for equal work, in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, according to Monday's ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

To support its claim, the EEOC pleaded “broad facts” concerning the attorneys' jobs, such as they all had the same professional degree and worked under time pressure and deadlines, which are “generalizable to virtually all practicing attorneys,” said the ruling.

But it did not “plead any acts particular to the attorney's actual job duties,” said the ruling. “Instead, the EEOC proceeded under a theory that, at the Port Authority, 'an attorney is an attorney and attorney,' ” that they were all doing equal work, and it “was not required to detail similarities between the attorneys' job duties.”

The U.S. District Court in New York granted the Port Authority summary judgment dismissing the case, holding that the “an attorney is an attorney” theory was insufficient to support its claim.

A three-judge appellate panel agreed in its unanimous ruling. A successful claim under the Equal Pay Act “depends on the comparison of actual job content; broad generalizations drawn from job titles, classifications, or divisions, and conclusory assertions of sex discrimination, cannot suffice,” said the ruling.

“Yet, despite a three-year investigation conducted with the Port Authority's cooperation, the EEOC's complaint and incorporated interrogatory responses rely almost entirely on broad generalizations,” said the ruling, in upholding the case's dismissal.

In May, the EEOC reached an $182,500 settlement of a gender discrimination lawsuit with a Minnesota fire company charged with underpaying a female human resources director.

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