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Judge Dismisses Calif. Suit Charging Pay Inequities

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the state of California deliberately underpaid some 60,000 employees in jobs held predominantly by women.

Experts said the Oct. 4 ruling by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco was yet another legal setback in the fight for pay equity. But they cited progress on the issue in collective bargaining, where many groups, including those representing school support personnel, are shifting their emphasis.

"The ruling is unfortunate because the courts are becoming increasingly conservative," said Claudia Wayne, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity in Washington. "But it is not going to stop or slow down the movement."

"The pay-equity movement has moved into the political arena," Ms. Wayne said. "Pay equity is being won at the state and local level through collective bargaining."

The California State Employees' Association filed suit in 1984 on behalf of past and present secretaries, nurses, and others in jobs held predominantly by women. The group charged that deliberate sex discrimination took place in setting the salaries for state jobs.

As an example of the pay disparities it attributed to discrimination, the suit cited the fact that stenographers--99 percent of whom were women--were paid $1,107 to $1,283 per month, while groundskeepers--96 percent of whom were men--were paid $1,342 to $1,523.

According to Christopher Waddell, chief counsel for the state department of personnel administration, the judge essentially required the union to prove that the state discriminated against women when it established the pay system in the 1930's.

The court also was bound, he said, by a 1985 appeals-court ruling that a state could rely on market rates in setting salaries, even if that resulted in women being paid less.

Pay-equity advocates said the impact of the setback was ameliorated somewhat by continuing progress in negotiations with state and local governments for salary increases.

"We have made the decision to do it at the collective-bargaining table," said Marilyn Johnston, head of the National Education Association's pay-equity program.

The teachers' union, which also represents many educational-support personnel, has designed a job-classification study it seeks to implement in conjunction with collective bargaining.

"Ours is a new process," she said. "It doesn't happen overnight. In another two years, we will have a fair number of contracts negotiated, and the impact of this will be felt."

The National Committee on Pay Equity plans to issue a report this week documenting more than $450- million that has been provided for upgrading women's pay.--mw

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