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Warren v. Solo Cup Co.

February 20, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 04 C 2270-Michael P. McCuskey, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge.


Before KANNE, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Betty Warren alleges her employer, Solo Cup Company, compensated her male co-worker at a higher hourly rate based on his gender in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. Warren appealed and we affirm.

I. Background

In 1999 Betty Warren began working at Solo Cup Company ("Solo"), a manufacturer of disposable cups and plates, as a "packer," earning $6.04 per hour. In 2000 Warren switched positions and became a "tool crib attendant," earning $6.31 per hour. She received three raises over the next two years and eventually reached an hourly wage of $7.52. When Warren began working in the tool crib, Solo tracked its parts using manual inventories recorded on a written card system. Eventually Solo computerized its tool crib, using a software system to track and inventory parts. This modernization made it important for tool crib attendants to possess computer skills.

In December 2002 Solo contemplated hiring a tool crib attendant to cover the third shift so the tool crib would be continually staffed. Having recently decided to lay off all of its full- and part-time security guards, Solo decided to offer the new tool crib position to Don Lorenz, one of its security guards. As a security guard, Lorenz started at $6.50 per hour and worked his way up to $7.43. Solo offered him a raise with the new position, to $7.75 per hour. Tony Peyton, the head of Solo's human resources department, testified that Lorenz's raise was based on his "computer skills and his potential"; Lorenz holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology and two master's degrees in education and urban planning, respectively.

Warren, who has a high school diploma, was upset when she learned Lorenz was earning more money than she was for similar work in the tool crib. She went to her supervisor to discuss the discrepancy, and her supervisor explained there was a company book that dictated the starting wage for tool crib attendants. When Warren protested that she "knew more than Lorenz," Warren was fired. At the time Solo's explanation for her firing was that she was "generating too many orders," which apparently is not a good thing for a tool crib attendant.*fn1 In the context of this litigation, deposition testimony revealed that Warren was resistant to working with computers, and Warren herself admitted to being "kind of mediocre" with computers.*fn2

Warren filed a three-count complaint in federal district court, alleging she was paid unequal wages due to her gender in violation of both Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and that her termination violated the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 601. Warren later abandoned her FMLA claim. Solo moved for summary judgment and prevailed, and Warren appealed.*fn3

II. Analysis

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, "construing all facts, and drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts" in favor of Warren.

Peele v. Country Mut. Ins. Co., 288 F.3d 319, 326 (7th Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). "[T]o avoid summary judgment, the non-movant bears the burden of setting forth 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Vanasco v. Nat'l-Louis Univ., 137 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)).

A. EPA Claim

Warren first argues that Solo violated the EPA because her hourly rate as a crib attendant was less than Lorenz's. The EPA prohibits employers from paying employees different wages based on gender. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); Varner v. Ill. State Univ., 226 F.3d 927, 932 (7th Cir. 2000). "To establish a prima facie case of wage discrimination under the EPA, [Warren] must show," by a preponderance of the evidence, that: "(1) higher wages were paid to a male employee, (2) for equal work requiring substantially similar skill, effort and responsibilities, and (3) the work was performed under similar working conditions." ...

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