County Settles Wage Discrimination Suit For $60K

SNOW HILL — Worcester County officials have settled for $60,000 a lawsuit filed last August alleging the now-defunct Liquor Control Board (LCB) violated the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) by paying female employees at liquor retail outlets less than their male counterparts in the same positions.
Last August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit in U.S. District Court outlining an alleged pattern carried out by the old LCB of undercompensating female retail clerks at the agency’s retail outlets throughout Worcester compared to their male counterparts performing the same jobs. The allegations date back as early as April 2010 when county liquor dispensary operations were still run by the LCB, a state appointed body.
In 2011, amid significant controversy, the old LCB was dismantled and a new county-run Department of Liquor Control (DLC) was created to fill the void. The charges of discrimination surfaced early in July of 2011 after the DLC had assumed control, but the allegations stemmed from wage discrimination carried out by the LCB prior to the takeover and the complaint did not implicate the new DLC.
The suit filed by the EEOC against the Worcester County Commissioners asked the court to enjoin the county from discriminating against female employees with regard to wages compared to their male counterparts. The complaint also asked the court to order the county to institute and carry out policies, practices and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for women and eradicate its past unlawful employment practices.
In terms of monetary awards, the complaint asked the court to order the county to make whole the three female employees who were allegedly discriminated against in terms of pay compared to their male counterparts. Worcester County, through its attorneys, denied the allegations and at different times over the last year entered motions to dismiss the case for a variety of reasons.
However, as the case dragged on with no resolution in sight, the county last week agreed to a consent decree effectively settling the suit. When the General Assembly abolished the LCB, it transferred all of the LCB’s assets and liabilities, including liabilities for violations of the EPA, to the county.
“The commission and the county desire to resolve this action without the time and expense of continued litigation, and they desire to formulate a plan to be embodied in a decree which will promote and effectuate the purposes of the EPA,” the consent decree reads.
While the consent decree does not include an admission of guilt, the EEOC and the plaintiffs essentially got what they were seeking. The three plaintiffs will be awarded back pay and damages, and the county will be required to implement programs to ensure wage discrimination does not occur again.
Within 10 days, the county shall pay relief to the three plaintiffs a total of $60,000, of which $36,000 represents back pay and $24,000 of which represents liquidated damages. The largest single settlement for any one of the three plaintiffs is $35,000, of which half is back pay and the other half is damages. The other two plaintiffs will receive $12,000 and $12,500, respectively, with varying amounts of back pay and damages.
Beyond the monetary components of the settlement are elements included to help ensure a similar situation does not arise again. For example, the county and its officers, agents and employees are enjoined from discriminating on the basis of sex with respect to wages in violation of the EPA.
Within 90 days of the entry of the consent decree, the county’s chief administrative officer, the director of human resources and the county attorney shall be required to attend a live training program lasting at least two hours, which will cover the prevention of employment discrimination and compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws, with a particular emphasis on the sex discrimination with respect to wages.
For the three-year duration of the consent decree, the county is required to provide the same training to all individuals hired as chief administrative officer, director of human resources or county attorney. In addition, the county will be required to post in all places of employment a notice outlining wage laws and the prevention of discrimination on the basis of sex with regards to wages.
The consent decree also includes provisions for the re-hiring of at least one of the plaintiffs, based on the availability of a similar position. However, with the DLC closing its Berlin operation, current employees will be reassigned to other posts.
“Subject to the recall of any liquor store clerks affected by the closure of the Berlin store, the county agrees to offer [plaintiff] a position as a full-time clerk the next time such a position becomes open,” the decree reads. “Said position will only be offered to [plaintiff] after any store clerks affected by the closing of the Berlin store have been offered a position as a full-time store clerk.”