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Port Authority Cleared on Unequal Attorney Pay

(CN) - There is no evidence behind claims that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey pays female attorneys less than it pays male attorneys for equal work, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

The ruling comes in a 2010 complaint in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claimed that Port Authority paid female nonsupervisory attorneys less than it paid their male counterparts for equal work.

Many female attorneys with the same job code and similar legal experience are paid lower salaries than their male counterparts, a three-year investigation found.

The commission claimed that both male and female Port Authority attorneys have "the same professional degree," work "under time pressures and deadlines," are evaluated according to the same performance criteria, and use the same skills as practicing attorneys.

"The EEOC did not, however, plead any facts particular to the attorneys' actual job duties," according to a Sept. 29 ruling by the federal appeals court in Manhattan. "Instead, the EEOC proceeded under a theory that, at the Port Authority, 'an attorney is an attorney is an attorney' - that is, that the dozens of nonsupervisory attorneys working at the Port Authority during the relevant period were all doing equal work."

Affirming a federal judge's decision to grant the Port Authority judgment on the pleadings, the appeals court said that "the EEOC's failure to allege any facts concerning the attorneys' actual job duties deprives the court of any basis from which to draw a reasonable inference that the attorneys performed 'equal work,' the touchstone of an EPA [Equal Pay Act] claim." (Emphasis in original.)

Rather than comparing whether the attorneys handled complex commercial matters, or simpler matters, such as responding to employee complaints, the EEOC made broad generalizations about attorneys' work, the court found.

And "the EEOC's more particularized allegations - that Port Authority attorneys had the same job code; were evaluated according to the same broad criteria; were paid according to the same 'maturity curve'; and were not limited to distinct legal divisions - at most demonstrate that Port Authority attorneys were subject to the same human resources policies," Judge Debra Livingston wrote for a three-judge panel.

The EEOC had even undermined its own argument that sex was the sole cause of pay disparities by including in its brief a table that showed multiple male attorneys who earned more than other male attorneys, the court found.

"Simply put, the EEOC has not alleged a single nonconclusory fact supporting its assertion that the claimants' and comparators' jobs required 'substantially equal' skill and effort," the 29-page opinion states.

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