Rizo v. Fresno County Office of Education
On April 27, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down an unfavorable decision in Aileen Rizo’s case. The court held that using prior salary alone to calculate current wages can be permissible under the Equal Pay Act as a “factor other than sex” if the defendant shows that its use of prior salary was reasonable and effectuated a business policy.
Rizo argued that using prior salary alone to calculate current wages perpetuates existing pay disparities and undermines the legislative intent of the Equal Pay Act, which is to address pay inequity based on sex.
This unfavorable ruling magnified the need for strong state and federal legislation that eliminates the practice of using prior salary alone to calculate current wages.
The case was remanded back to district court to determine if the business reasons presented by the defendant are reasonable given their stated purpose. AAUW joined an amicus brief in support of Rizo’s petition for rehearing en banc — in front of all the judges of a court rather than only a selected panel — and urged the Ninth Circuit to reconsider. On August 29, 2017, the Ninth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing en banc.
AAUW continues to support Rizo through our legal case-support program as her case moves through various stages of the judicial system. Despite the complexity of the judicial process, the policy behind the process is AAUW’s focus. AAUW’s paramount concern for Rizo and others is achieving pay equity.
Pay equity is a matter of simple fairness. Yet in 2015 women who worked full time were paid just 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. When the gender pay gap is broken down across different populations, the numbers can become even more stark. Rizo v. Fresno County Office of Education highlights a significant underlying factor that contributes to the wage gap: employers’ practice of relying on an employee’s salary history to set new salary levels. AAUW is proud to support the case through our Legal Advocacy Fund.
The Story behind the Rizo Case
Aileen Rizo works as a math consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education (FCOE) in Fresno, California, training instructors in new ways of teaching math. Rizo was hired by the FCOE in 2009 after earning a master’s degree and teaching for 13 years. She and her family moved from Arizona to California for her new position.
In 2012, Rizo says, a male colleague who had recently been hired mentioned that he had been placed at step nine on the county’s 10-step pay scale. Rizo was shocked — she had been placed at step one on the scale when she began her job, even though she understood that she had more experience and seniority than her male colleague. Rizo says that after filing an internal complaint, she was told that the FCOE based new employees’ salaries on just one factor: the employee’s salary history. On the basis of the county’s policy it seemed that Rizo’s less-experienced colleague was given a higher salary only because he had been paid more at his previous job than she had been paid at her previous job.
Rizo eventually filed suit under the Equal Pay Act and California’s sex discrimination statutes. The case was filed in California state court in 2014.
Why Rizo Matters
Basing pay on salary history is one factor that can perpetuate the wage gap, precisely because women are generally paid less than men. But many people don’t understand the domino effect that pay inequity can have; Rizo’s case could help shed light on this important yet often unrecognized factor that contributes to the wage gap.
AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases since 1981. The case support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.
Aileen Rizo once loved her job, but she found herself pursuing a lawsuit in an effort to receive the pay she believes she deserves.
How is the pay gap really hurting women and their families?
AAUW provides support for a select number of cases that have the potential to provide significant protection for all women.