ACLU, ACLU of Maine, and National Women’s Law Center File Amicus Brief Urging First Circuit Court of Appeals to Uphold Maine’s Strong Equal Pay Act

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
September 29, 2022 10:30 am

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ACLU of Maine
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Gillian Branstetter, ACLU,
Meagan Sway, ACLU of Maine,

PORTLAND, Maine – The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and the National Women’s Law Center filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit today urging it to uphold a Maine federal district court’s ruling that the Maine Equal Pay Law forbids sex-based disparities in employee pay, regardless of the employer’s intent. In Mundell v. Acadia Hospital Corp., the court is asked for the first time to decide whether a plaintiff suing under Maine’s statute must prove that her employer intended to discriminate against her, or whether the fact that she did the same work for half the pay as her male colleagues was enough to prove that her employer had violated the law.

Doctor Claire Mundell, a psychologist at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine, learned in a chance conversation with her male colleague that he earned nearly twice what she did performing the same work. Dr. Mundell and other female psychologists earned $50 an hour each for their work, while their male colleagues earned $90 or more an hour each for work that took the same skill, effort, and responsibility. The federal district court in Maine found that the Maine Equal Pay Act forbids paying men and women differently when they perform comparable work, regardless of whether the employer was maliciously or intentionally discriminating. Freeing plaintiffs from having to prove such intent in court is important because while discrimination is a persistent cause of unequal wages between men and women, strong evidence shows that overt bias in pay decisions is rarely expressed by decisionmakers; indeed, studies show that decisionmakers often are unaware of their own biased attitudes when making pay determinations.

Since 2000, the wage gap between men and women workers has remained stubbornly constant with women receiving around 80 cents for every dollar a male employee receives, which is the current gap in Maine. The numbers are worse when factoring in race and ethnicity: In 2019, Black women were paid just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Latino men; Latinas earned just 55 cents on the dollar, and Native women earned only 60 cents on the dollar. The wealth gap worsened for women of color after the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic: while the gap between white women and white men remained the same, it got wider for Asian women, Black women, and Latinx women. The gender wage gap perpetuates income inequality and ensures that, no matter how hard women — especially women of color — work, they cannot catch up to their white male peers.

“The gender wage gap keeps women from earning fair pay — particularly women of color. Maine’s Equal Pay Law recognizes that the pay gap is not a problem of a few “bad apple” supervisors — it’s a systemic problem that needs a systemic solution. Upholding the Maine Equal Pay Law could help close the gender wage gap in Maine and bring thousands of Maine women out of poverty,” said Carol Garvan, legal director of the ACLU of Maine.

“The wage gap has persisted for so long in Maine and around the country because pay decisions are shrouded in secrecy, and because biased pay decisions often arise from deep-rooted stereotypes about whose work is valued more,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The lower court here correctly decided that requiring female employees to prove discriminatory intent asks them to read their boss’s mind, when all the proof they need is printed on their paycheck.”

“It is crucial to highlight that the federal equal pay law and Maine’s equal pay law both don’t require a showing of intent for a worker to prevail when bringing a sex-based pay inequity claim. We urge the Court to affirm the district court ruling so that more women can pursue pay equity claims and get what we’re owed,” said Sunu P. Chandy, legal director at the National Women’s Law Center.

In their brief, the ACLU, ACLU of Maine, and National Women’s Law Project argue:

  • Strong state equal pay laws like Maine’s are critical to address the persistent gender wage gap, which disproportionately harms many women of color;
  • While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires a showing of intent for pay discrimination claims, Maine’s Equal Pay Law — like the federal Equal Pay Act of 1964 (EPA) — does not;
  • Interpreting the Maine Equal Pay Law to not require proof of discriminatory intent not only comports with the federal EPA and the Maine law’s plain text and purpose, but also more effectively addresses the systemic bias that drives unequal pay; and
  • Prohibiting unequal pay on the basis of sex, regardless of whether it is fueled by discriminatory intent, is good economic policy.

The amicus brief is available here.

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