Justices Decline To Weigh Cases On Pay Equity and Union Dues

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to consider claims by female faculty members of the University of Washington's nursing school that they are illegally paid less than male faculty members in "comparable" departments.

The Court also decided not to review Ohio court rulings in a case involving the rights of Toledo teachers not to pay "service fees" to an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers in lieu of union dues.

Pay Policy Challenged

In the comparable-worth case, Spaulding v. University of Washington (Case No. 84-515), the Justices let stand a federal appeals court's ruling that the university was not illegally discriminating on the basis of sex in paying higher salaries to male faculty members in other departments than to women on the faculty of the nursing school.

In papers filed with the Court, the nursing teachers alleged that male teachers in "comparable" departments--such as environmental health, pharmacy, social work, and architecture--are paid on the average about 35 percent more annually than they are. The plaintiffs contended that the differentials violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

A federal magistrate granted the university's motion to dismiss the case in October 1980, a decision that was upheld by a federal district judge in October 1981 and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last June.

In its opinion in the case, the Ninth Circuit Court held that the nursing teachers had failed to prove that the university was guilty of intentional sex discrimination.

Intent Not Proven

"We hold that on facts such as these, where plaintiffs' sex-discrimination claim is a wide-ranging claim of wage disparity between only comparable jobs, the law does not go so far as to allow a prima facie case to be constructed by showing disparate impact," the court said.

The appeals court also accepted the university's argument that it was proper for it to set nursing faculty salaries by examining salaries paid at several comparable nursing schools at other universities and paying its own faculty the "market rate."

'Fail-Safe Defense'

"In effect, this decision hands every employer in a Title VII wage-discrimination case a fail-safe defense; the employer need only claim to pay 'the market rate' and nothing more will be required," the nursing teachers unsuccessfully argued before the Justices. "An employer need merely utter the magic words, 'But I'm paying the market rate,' and the doors of the courthouse slam shut to the vast numbers of women who labor in female-dominated occupations."

According to the university, comparable-worth analysis "does not apply when disciplines, rather than individuals, are being compared because Title VII contains no presumption that disciplines are of equal value."

According to Claudia Wayne, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity, the Court's decision not to hear the case "was not that critical to the comparable-worth movement."

She also said that Washington State's better-known comparable-worth lawsuit, Washington State v. Washington Federation of State Employees, "presents a set of facts that the Court would be more likely to look at."

In that case, a federal district judge ordered the state to pay millions of dollars in back pay to female employees on the basis of a comparable-worth analysis of state civil-service pay scales. (See Education Week, Dec. 21, 1983.) The case is now before the Ninth Circuit Court and, regardless of its outcome, is expected to be appealed to the High Court.

Service Fees

In Gibney v. Toledo Federation of Teachers (No. 84-349), the Court was asked to review Ohio court rulings in a case involving teachers who objected on First Amendment grounds to paying service fees in lieu of union dues.

The dispute began in August 1981, when the Toledo school board and the union entered into a collective-bargaining agreement that required nonunion teachers to pay service fees instead of dues and to use an internal rebate procedure if they wanted any portion of their fees refunded. The union filed suit against a group of nonunion teachers in state court after they instructed the school board not to deduct the fees from their paychecks, arguing that the rebate system violated their rights because it permitted the temporary use of their fees for political and ideological purposes that they objected to.

A state trial court sided with the union and ordered the teachers to pay the fees in August 1983. That decision was upheld by the Ohio Court of Appeals last February, and last June the Ohio Supreme Court refused to review it.

Vol. 04, Issue 14

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