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EEOC sues Md. state insurance agency over pay discrimination

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a class action lawsuit against the Maryland Insurance Administration, alleging the agency pays female employees lower wages than male employees who perform the same work.

After attempting to reach a settlement, the EEOC filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between workers at the same establishment performing jobs that require largely equal skills and effort.

Since at least December 2009, the Maryland Insurance Administration has willfully paid female investigators and enforcement officers less than their male counterparts, the complaint states. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three named women — Alexandra Cordaro, Mary Jo Rogers and Marlene Green — along with “a class of similarly situated female employees.”

Vivian Laxton, public affairs director for the Maryland Insurance Administration, said the administration strongly disputes the allegations of pay discrimination, adding the case will be “vigorously defended.”

The EEOC is seeking back wages, damages and prejudgment interest for employees whose wages the suit says have been unlawfully withheld as a result of pay discrimination.

Compared with other types of discrimination claims filed with the EEOC, pay discrimination charges are fairly uncommon. In fiscal year 2014, the commission only received 27 charges filed by individuals under the Equal Pay Act, compared to 653 charges alleging sex discrimination and 925 claiming race discrimination.

“It’s ironic and disturbing that a state law enforcement agency would pay female investigators and enforcement officers less than their male colleagues simply because of their gender in violation of federal law,” said Spencer H. Lewis Jr., director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, in a statement. The Philadelphia office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.

The lawsuit also requests a permanent injunction against further discrimination, and calls for a court order requiring the insurance agency to “institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs which provide equal employment opportunities for women and which eradicate the effects of its past and present unlawful employment practices.”

“It’s not just unfair when women are paid less than men when they do substantially equal work under similar working conditions — it’s a blatant violation of federal law,” Debra M. Lawrence, a regional attorney with the EEOC’s Baltimore Field Office, said in a statement. “The EEOC is committed to ensuring that all employees, both public sector and private sector employees, receive the equal pay they deserve.”

The case is EEOC v. Maryland Insurance Administration, 1:15-CV-01091-JFM.