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Women employees sue the state over unequal pay - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Women employees sue the state over unequal pay

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -
Lawyers for the Vermont Human Rights Commission and the state of Vermont squared off in Washington County Superior Court Wednesday.

"We're here because the state of Vermont has been paying these plaintiffs, as business managers at our state prisons, thousands and thousands of dollars less every year than it pays to a man and doing the exact same job," said Emily Jan Joselson, the lawyer for the plaintiffs.

It all started back in the fall of 2003. The Springfield prison was about to open and officials were scrambling to fill jobs, including a food service business manager. They hired a well-qualified man from the private sector; we'll call him John Doe. He was offered the job under the state's "Hire into Range" policy, where qualified candidates can be given a higher salary for critical positions. Doe ended up earning upward of $10,000 a year more than his Corrections counterparts, some of them women who had been with the state for over 18 years. When he switched jobs three years later, he kept the elevated pay grade.

Three DOC employees, including Mary Bertrand and Lynne Silloway, took their case to the Human Rights Commission, which sued the state. They argue not only wage discrimination but gender discrimination.

"The burden on the state-- and on any employer-- in an equal pay act case is very, very steep because the state and the federal Legislatures recognize how embedded pay equity is in our culture," Jan Joselson said.

Lawyers defending the state say the issue has nothing to do with gender, and that the state was playing by the rules.

"As far as we can tell there's no evidence of any consideration of gender at any point in this case. Mr. Doe was hired initially at an elevated salary because of his unique qualifications for this job and exigent need. And that has resulted in the difference we see today," Vt. Assistant Attorney General David Groff said.

The crux of the case, according Judge Helen Toor, is the challenge of merging provisions in the Equal Pay Act with the sometimes messy state employee classification system with its inherent inequities.

If successful, the plaintiffs could each be awarded the same rate of pay and retroactive compensation. The judge is expected to make a decision in the coming months.

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