Saturday, May 5, 2018

Miller v. City of New York: How similar do jobs have to be to require equal pay?

In Miller v. City of New York,  No. 15cv7563 (S.D.N.Y. May 1, 2018), Federal District Court Judge William Pauley granted summary judgment to the defendant on the Equal Pay Act claim brought by a class of female school crossing guards, who compared themselves to male traffic enforcement agents. Both work for the New York Police Department, and about 96% of crossing guards are female whereas about 56% of traffic enforcement agents are male. Traffic enforcement agents earn about $5 more per hour than crossing guards.

Under the Equal Pay Act, the jobs being compared must be substantially equal, which means that they don't have to be identical, but they still have to be pretty darn close. In this case, the plaintiffs observed that both crossing guards and traffic enforcement agents direct the flow of traffic, but the court noted that in comparing the skill, effort, and responsibility required of the two jobs, it was clear that they were not substantially equal as required by the law. First, the court noted that the two jobs have different qualifications -- traffic enforcement agents receive 10 times more training, suggesting that the positions require different skill levels. Second, traffic enforcement agents are full-time employees who can be required to work overtime, evenings, and weekends, whereas crossing guards work only five hours per day, mostly during school hours. Third, traffic enforcement agents have more responsibility than crossing guards. They issue summonses and testify in court. They can override traffic signals whereas crossing guards are taught to follow traffic signals. Fourth, the court noted that crossing guards and traffic enforcement agents do not work under similar working conditions. Crossing guards help children and their parents at intersections near schools during school hours, and only stand in intersections when the light is red. Traffic enforcement agents face more hazards because they are stationed in intersections when directing traffic and work throughout the city, including at busy intersections, and at night.

I thought this case worth highlighting because it illustrates that jobs that are superficially similar may not be alike enough to require equal pay under federal law. If jobs meet the substantially equal standard, there is essentially an inference that persons performing the jobs should be paid the same. But if one job requires much more training and responsibility and is significantly more hazardous, it makes sense that the jobs would not pay the same.

This blog reflects the views solely of its author. It is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice on how to analyze any particular set of facts.