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Judge finds gender bias at Enoch Pratt, orders nearly $200,000 in back pay

Baltimore and its Enoch Pratt Free Library system discriminated against female librarian supervisors by paying them less than a male colleague, a federal judge has ruled in ordering the city to pay the five women a total of nearly $200,000 in double back pay and to raise their retirement compensation as a remedy for the illegal gender-based disparity.

U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis found that the city’s violation of the federal Equal Pay Act, or EPA, at its public library was neither a “good faith” mistake nor based on reasonable grounds for believing that its compensation system complied with the law. The gender-based pay disparity continued after the city and library were alerted to it, Xinis stated in her decision last month.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Baltimore and its library in September 2017, alleging the male colleague was hired in 2015 at an annual salary at least $6,000 higher than that of the women though they performed the same work. The city countered in vain that the male supervisor’s work was greater because he oversaw a larger circulation of books and other publications.

Xinis rejected that argument, saying librarian supervisors performed the same core functions of managing branch collections, supervising staff, maintaining the physical facility, interacting with the administration on payroll and personnel issues, and overseeing public outreach and programming.

“Accordingly, although differences existed among branches in physical footprint, circulation size and demographics, most relevant to the EPA claim is that none of the differences translated into job duties that differed significantly from one another,” Xinis wrote in her memorandum opinion.

“The library recognizes as much insofar as it does not hire LS-1s (librarian supervisors) based on the specific needs of any particular branch and directs that all LS-1s must be ready, willing, and able to transfer and substitute at any branch and at any time,” Xinis added. “In short, the library regards LS-1s to be about as fungible as professional managers can be within the Enoch Pratt system.”

Though ordering financial compensation, Xinis rejected as needless EEOC’s request for an order that the city and library system “institute and carry out policies, practices and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for women and eradicate the effects of their past and present unlawful practices.”

Such an order would be “tantamount to the kind of ‘obey the law’ injunctions that are disfavored as unnecessary exercises of judicial power,” Xinis wrote.

The judge issued her decision Dec. 23 after having conducted a five-day bench trial remotely from Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus

Acting Baltimore Solicitor Dana P. Moore said via email Monday that the city’s law department was “not at all surprised” by Xinis’ order and will not appeal.

“We anticipated this outcome and, in fact, had attempted to resolve the monetary aspects of the claims,” stated Moore, the city’s chief attorney.

“The case went to trial, however, because the EEOC was insistent that the library enter into a consent decree that would have bound the library’s operations for years to come,” Moore added. “The law department vehemently opposed this demand because the administrative changes that needed to be made had in fact already been made. The library is actively committed to continue to assure equal and fair treatment of all of its employees.”

Moore stated she is “very pleased that the library is able to carry out its human resources and administrative functions without the unnecessary weight of a consent decree.”

Debra M. Lawrence, the EEOC’s regional attorney, said in a statement that Xinis’ ruling is “a significant reminder to employers, including public employers, that they have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are paid equally for equal work.”

According to Xinis’ opinion, Willie Johnson was hired in 2015 at a salary of $68,900, while his highest paid female colleague received $67,800. Johnson was not a party in the case.

Johnson’s salary was raised to $70,300 the following year, at which time his colleague Ann Marie Harvey discovered she was being paid $6,100 less after reviewing an online listing of city salaries.

Harvey told the human resources department. However, when no salary adjustment was made, she contacted the EEOC in August 2016, Xinis wrote.

In her decision, Xinis awarded Harvey and her female colleagues Julie Johnson and Nancy Yob $25,801.16 in back pay each. Xinis also awarded back pay of $18,929.86 to Carlotta Young and $1,040.88 to Linda Schwartz.

The back pay awards will be doubled to a total of $194,748.44 due to the city’s lack of good faith, under Xinis’ order. The upward adjustment in pay will also be reflected in the women’s retirement compensation, which is based on an employee’s salary for the three years prior to retirement, the judge stated.

The case was docketed at the U.S. District Court for Maryland as U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Enoch Pratt Free Library et al., No. 8:17-cv-02860-PX.

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