Women Just Won A Huge Battle For Equal Pay In Federal Court

Incredibly, the victory came on the day before Equal Pay Day.

On Monday, a federal court ruled that women can no longer be paid less than their male counterparts based on previous salary history. The ruling, which was handed down in U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, is a big win for advocates of closing the wage gap between men and women. Aileen Rizo, a math consultant, brought the case forward after suing her employer when she learned that a man she worked with made more than her despite having significantly less experience.

"The Equal Pay Act stands for a principle as simple as it is just: Men and women should receive equal pay for equal work regardless of sex," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in his opinion. "The question before us is also simple: Can an employer justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary? Based on the text, history and purpose of the Equal Pay Act, the answer is clear: No."

Gender wage difference concept. A miniature man and a woman standing on top of a pile of coins.
Gender wage difference concept. A miniature man and a woman standing on top of a pile of coins. Shutterstock / kang hyejin

According to The Los Angeles Times, in 2012, Rizo was eating lunch with a group of colleagues when she found out that her employer, the Fresno County Office of Education, had hired a man with less experience than her for a higher salary. $13,000 higher. When Rizzo approached her employer, the company reportedly excused the discrepancy by saying her salary was based on what she was paid before the Fresno County Office of Education hired her. Rizzo responded with a lawsuit.

"The financial exploitation of working women embodied by the gender pay gap continues to be an embarrassing reality of our economy," Reinhardt wrote.

An 11 judge panel made the decision, The Los Angeles Times reported, overturning a ruling made by a three-judge panel last year. Judge Reinhardt, who wrote the decision, died last month.

A recent Pew Research Center analysis found that women earn 82 cents for every dollar men do when compared by median hourly earnings. That's come a long way from 1980, when the number was closer to 60 cents for every dollar, but the narrowing of the pay gap has slowed considerably in the last 15 years. Economists have credited the gender wage gap to "career choice, breaks in work for maternity leave and child care — mothers in the United States still bear a disproportionate amount of the child-rearing burden — and insidious forms of discrimination," The Washington Post reported.

The ruling, handed down on Monday, couldn't have been timed any better. Tuesday is Equal Pay Day.

"I am just overjoyed," Rizo, 43, told The Los Angeles Times. "I have three daughters, and I know what I did will make the world a better place for them. I wanted to make a difference."

Cover image via  Shutterstock / kang hyejin and Todd A. Merport / Shutterstock.

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