Worcester Files Motion To Dismiss Equal Pay Suit

BERLIN — Worcester County this week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed last August alleging the now-defunct Liquor Control Board (LCB) violated the federal Equal Pay Act by paying female employees at retail outlets less than their male counterparts in the same positions.

Last August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the suit in U.S. District Court. The complaint outlines an alleged pattern by the old LCB of undercompensating female retail clerks at the agency’s retail outlets throughout the county compared to their male counterparts that performed the same job.

The allegations date back to as early as April 2010 when the county liquor dispensary operations were still run by the LCB. In 2011, amid significant controversy, the old LCB was dismantled by the General Assembly and the new county-run Department of Liquor Control (DLC) was created to fill the void. The charges of discrimination surfaced early in July 2011 after the DLC assumed control on July 1, 2011, but the allegations stem from alleged wage discrimination carried out by the LCB prior to the takeover and does not implicate the new DLC.

The complaint asks the court to grant a permanent injunction enjoining Worcester County from discriminating against females with respect to their compensation and from paying female employees lower compensation than their male counterparts for performing equal work. In terms of monetary awards, the complaint asks the court to order Worcester County to make whole the slighted female employees by providing appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest in amounts to be proven at trial and an equal sum as liquidated damages.

This week, attorneys for Worcester County filed a motion to dismiss the suit, pointing out the alleged equal pay violations occurred under the watch of the LCB and not the county-run DLC.

“It is undisputed that the county did not employ the affected individuals during the pertinent time period and that it does not fit within the definition of employer found in the Equal Pay Act,” the motion to dismiss reads. “Therefore, the county’s liability hinges on the question of whether it can be held liable under the successor liability theory. Absent any such authority, this court should not extend successor liability to the county and the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice.”

In its original complaint, the EEOC is seeking from the county back pay with interest for the female employees allegedly discriminated against. In most cases, the EEOC asks the court to force the offending party to adjust and adapt its policies to ensure similar discrimination incidents do not happen in the future. However, the county asserted this week because it was not the offending party in the first place, it should not be subject to the typical injunction relief.

“The county acknowledges that in the vast majority of cases filed by the EEOC, injunctive relief is critical to prevent future discriminatory conduct,” the motion reads. “Ordinarily, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief that requires an employer to develop and implement new anti-discrimination policies, provide several hours of anti-discrimination training to employees and management and undergo EEOC oversight for a period of years. Based upon the unique facts of this case, injunctive relief is not warranted.”

According to its motion to dismiss, there are no allegations in the original complaint that the county has ever engaged in unlawful or discriminatory conduct. Instead, the county asserts it admitted recognizing the discrepancies in pay for some former LCB employees and acted swiftly to rectify the situation. In addition, the county points out the old LCB was covered by an insurance policy that could, or should be forced to make the slighted employees whole.

“Therefore, the importance of injunctive relief based upon the facts of this case and this case alone should not outweigh the fact that the LCB was insured during the pertinent time period and has the ability to provide relief to the affected employees,” the motion filed this week reads. “Under these circumstances, the county does not have to, and should not be required to expend limited tax dollars to compensate the affected individuals.”

In May 2011, in advance of the takeover by the county and the dissolution of the LCB, the county began a systematic review of the LCB’s staff to determine which employees would be hired and assigned to the DLC. As part of the review process, it was determined how each employee’s current salary would fit into the county’s “grade and step” wage system.

At the time, the LCB had 38 total employees including nine full-time store clerks, six part-time store clerks and six full-time store managers. Of the nine full-time store clerks, five were male and four were female. It was only after a review of the old LCB employees and their pay structures that the alleged infractions came to light.

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