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AMERICAN NURSES' ASS'N v. STATE OF ILL.

April 4, 1985

AMERICAN NURSES' ASSOCIATION; ILLINOIS NURSES' ASSOCIATION; MARY J. ANDERSON, GWENDOLYN T. ASHTON, MARY SUE BARNETT, PATRICIA BENDER, SUE CELESTE CHRISTIAN, DEBRA CUTLER, ELLA VERA EVANS, JOHN FITZPATRICK, BARBARA FRANCOIS, BARBARA GOLDSBERRY, DELORES I. GWIN, ROSEMARY SUE HILL, SHARON HOYLE, ESTELLE L. HUECHTEMAN, MARLA J. HUNTER, DEVA KOSTER, MARY L. MCDONALD, PATRICIA PETRINE, MARY RITCHIE, CLEO B. SPIRES, AND CAROLYN K. VERSON ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS; ITS GOVERNOR JAMES THOMPSON; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND ITS DIRECTOR MICHAEL LANE; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND ITS ACTING DIRECTOR FRED UHLIG; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH & DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED AND ITS DIRECTOR MICHAEL BELLETIRE; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND ITS DIRECTOR DAVID HARDWICK; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID AND ITS DIRECTOR GREGORY L. COLER; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGING AND ITS ACTING DIRECTOR JANET S. OTWELL; THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CENTRAL MANAGEMENT SERVICES AND ITS DIRECTOR LOUIS J. GIORDANO; AND THE STATE OF ILLINOIS AND ITS GOVERNOR JAMES R. THOMPSON ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER UNNAMED STATE AGENCIES SUBJECT TO THE STATE PERSONNEL CODE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Plaintiffs are the American Nurses' Association (ANA), the Illinois Nurses' Association (INA), and twenty one individuals employed by the State of Illinois suing on their own behalf and as class representatives. The complaint charges the State of Illinois with sex discrimination in the classification and compensation of employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII), the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Plaintiffs, either fearing a premature negative response by the court to the term or for other reasons, strenuously object to defendants' labeling the action a "comparable worth" case. Distilled to their essence, however, the asserted causes of action are fundamentally dependent on recognition of the concept of comparable worth. Specifically, plaintiffs premise the suit on the proposition that a sex-based wage discrimination claim can be proved by a showing of lower pay to employees in historically female-dominated job classifications than to employees in historically male-dominated job classifications for jobs which have been evaluated as requiring equal or comparable skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. Defendants, the State of Illinois, its governor, and several state agencies, departments, and their directors, have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment against plaintiffs.

Comparable worth has been described by many as the major civil rights issue of the eighties. It has been the subject of voluminous scholarly and popular commentary, litigation, labor negotiations, and legislation in the States. Several bills addressing the issue are currently pending in Congress. Part of the impetus for the increasing attention given to comparable worth no doubt stems from the recognition that despite the dramatic increase of women entering the labor market in recent years, their earnings have remained roughly three-fifths that of males' earnings. Moreover, the debate over whether Title VII requires equal pay for jobs of comparable worth has escalated dramatically as a result of the Ninth Circuit's historic decision in Gunther v. County of Washington, 602 F.2d 882, (9th Cir. 1979), aff'd, 452 U.S. 161, 101 S.Ct. 2242, 68 L.Ed.2d 751 (1981), which the Supreme Court subsequently affirmed.

In Gunther, the Supreme Court gave greater scope to claims of sexual discrimination in compensation under Title VII as compared to similar claims under the Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay Act only requires equal pay for equal work. Title VII, on the other hand, by virtue of Gunther, imposes an unconditional obligation on employers not to discriminate in compensation on the basis of sex, regardless of whether the claim is based on allegations of equal work.

The Supreme Court held in Gunther that Title VII's prohibition of sex-based wage discrimination is not limited, by virtue of the "Bennett Amendment", to claims of equal pay for equal worth. The Court, however, stressed the narrowness of its holding, explicitly pointing out in both the majority and dissenting opinions that the holding did not require judicial evaluation or imposition of a particular wage scale. Id. at 181-82, 101 S.Ct. at 2253-54. Consequently, Gunther does not stand for the proposition that Title VII prohibits disproportionately low pay in positions predominantly occupied by women. It establishes that Title VII categorically forbids discrimination in compensation on the basis of sex; what kind of evidence will suffice to support a claim of sex-based wage discrimination was not addressed by the Gunther court and constitutes the current legal controversy.

After carefully reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties and conducting independent research, this court concludes that unequal pay for jobs alleged to be of comparable worth on the basis of an evaluative study which the employer commissioned but never adopted does not constitute a viable legal theory under Title VII. I base this conclusion on three grounds: Congress's explicit rejection of the theory of comparable worth as documented in the legislative history of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII; the Supreme Court's emphasis on the narrowness of the issue and the holding in Gunther; and this court's judgment that permitting proof of intentional discrimination through studies of comparable worth would be neither workable nor sound.

Federal courts have a duty to apply the anti-discrimination legislation Congress has enacted in a manner consistent with Congressional intent. Two major legislative enactments create causes of action and remedies for discrimination in compensation on the basis of sex; read together, they indicate that Title VII cannot be extended to impose a particular wage scale suggested by an evaluative study which an employer has not adopted. The legislative history of the Equal Pay Act indicates that Congress carefully considered and specifically rejected a comparable worth standard when it enacted the Equal Pay Act. One year later, when debating Title VII, Congress neither explicitly nor implicitly reversed its earlier policy judgment.

Plaintiffs maintain that in setting forth the legislative history, defendants have mistakenly equated "comparable work" and "comparable worth." They contend that, in fact, during the Equal Pay Act debates, Congress was only considering resolution of the narrow problem of unequal pay to women workers for work which was virtually identical to work performed by men workers. In plaintiffs' estimation, the only issue was whether the statute's remedial purpose could best be accomplished by using language referring to "comparable work" or "equal work". Plaintiffs are correct in maintaining Congress intended the Equal Pay Act to cover only jobs that are substantially identical or equal. However, the legislative history demonstrates that in seeking the language that would best embody this intention, Congress considered, debated, and rejected "comparable worth" as a basis for finding sex discrimination.

As defendants aptly demonstrate in their brief, during the extensive hearings and debates regarding amendments and redrafts of the Equal Pay Act, both Houses of Congress indicated their intent to prevent the courts and government from analyzing and dictating wage rates in all but the narrow "equal work" situations. The House changed the initial language of the Act which describes the kind of jobs it applies to from "work of comparable character on jobs the performance of which requires comparable skills" to "equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions." 108 Cong.Rec. 14767, 14771. Representative Frelinqhuysen clearly articulated the significance of the amendment:

  [T]he jobs in dispute must be the same in work
  content, effort, skill and responsibility
  requirements, and in working conditions. As
  indicated earlier, it is not intended to compare
  unrelated jobs, or jobs that have been
  historically and normally considered by the
  industry to be different.

109 Cong.Rec. 9196 (1963). Representative Goodell, who sponsored the bill that became the Equal Pay Act, reiterated this view with specific reference to the "comparable work" versus "equal work" distinction:

  Last year when the House changed the word
  "comparable" to "equal" the clear intention was
  to narrow the whole concept. We went from
  "comparable" to "equal" meaning that the jobs
  involved should be virtually identical. . . . We
  do

  not expect the Labor Department people to go into
  an establishment and attempt to rate jobs that
  are not equal. We do not want to hear the
  Department say, "Well, they amount to the same
  thing," and evaluate them so they come up to the
  same skill or point.

109 Cong.Rec. 9197 (1963). As the Fourth Circuit has stated, Congress "did not authorize the Secretary [of Labor] or the courts to engage in wholesale reevaluation of any employer's pay structure in order to enforce their own conceptions of economic worth." Brennan v. Prince William Hospital Corp., 503 F.2d 282, 285 (4th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 972, 95 S.Ct. 1392, 43 L.Ed.2d 652 (1975). Moreover, the Congressional debates explicitly document Congress's specific intention that the Equal Pay Act "not be ...


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