Lawsuit Alleges Pay Discrimination Within Liquor Department

BERLIN — A lawsuit was filed against the Worcester County Commissioners in late August alleging the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) violated the federal Equal Pay Act by paying female employees at retail outlets less than their male counterparts.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on August 29. The complaint outlines an alleged pattern by the county of undercompensating female retail clerks at county owned and operated liquor stores compared to their male counterparts who performed the same job.

The allegations date back to as early as April 2010 when the county liquor operations were still run by the now-defunct Liquor Control Board. In 2011, amid significant controversy, the old LCB was dismantled by the General Assembly and the new DLC was created to fill the void. The complaint alleges the pay discrimination began prior to the new system, but continued under the DLC.

“Worcester County had notice of the claims underlying this action at the time it acquired the business operations of the Liquor Control Board of Worcester County,” the complaint reads. “Worcester County is therefore subject to the jurisdiction of this court as a successor employer under the EPA to remedy unlawful employment practices.”

The EEOC suit was filed on behalf of three female DLC employees, but language in the complaint suggests there could be a larger set of plaintiffs who received less compensation than their male counterparts.

“From April 2010 to July 1, 2011, defendant Worcester County violated sections of state law by paying its female employees Donna Smith, Kylesha Conner and Sharee Dale lower wages than those paid to their male colleagues Jayce Lee and Carroll Wilhelm for performing equal work as retail store clerks,” the complaint reads. “As a result of the acts complained of above, defendant Worcester County has withheld the payment of wages due to Donna Smith, Kylesha Conner and Sharee Dale, and other unidentified similarly-situated female class members who received lower compensation than Jayce Lee and Carroll Wilhelm. The unlawful practices complained of were willful.”

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court alleging discrimination in compensation based on sex. According to the EEOC, the suit was filed after attempts to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process failed.

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. The complaint also asks the court to order Worcester County to institute and carry out policies, practices and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for women and eradicate the effects of its past and present unlawful employment practices.

In terms of monetary awards, the complaint asks the court to order Worcester County to make whole Smith, Conner and Dale by providing appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest in amounts to be proven at trial and an equal sum as liquidated damages.

“Unfortunately, nearly 50 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, pay discrimination against women remains a significant problem in the public sector as well as the private sector,” said EEOC District Director Spencer Lewis, Jr. this week.