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Equal Employment Opportunity v. Port Authority of New York

May 17, 2012

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Naomi Reice Buchwald United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") brings this action against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority"), alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) (the "EPA"), among a class of non-supervisory female attorneys in Port Authority's in-house law department.*fn1 Presently before us is Port Authority's motion for judgment on the pleadings.*fn2

For the reasons stated herein, Port Authority's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND*fn3

In 2007, a female attorney employed in Port Authority's law department filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she was paid a lower salary than comparably situated men in the department. The EEOC commenced a three-year investigation into those and similar allegations before issuing a determination letter that Port Authority had violated the EPA in 2010. Port Authority did not engage in conciliation, and the EEOC commenced the instant lawsuit on September 29, 2010.

The complaint and Responses allege that, since at least January 1, 2006, Port Authority has violated the EPA with respect to a class of fourteen non-supervisory female attorneys in Port Authority's law department. The complaint alleges that these attorneys are paid less than male attorneys "who have substantially similar lengths of service and experience" and who "hav[e] the same job code" for "jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions." (Compl. ¶ 10(a)-(c).) The complaint does not identify any male comparators or provide further detail with respect to the job comparison. Port Authority filed its answer to the complaint on January 21, 2011 and amended it ten days later.

In May of 2011, Port Authority requested leave to move for judgment on the pleadings. At a June 7, 2011 conference, the Court denied the request, noting that, at most, such a motion would simply result in the EEOC filing an amended complaint. Rather, the Court directed the EEOC to respond to contention interrogatories so that Port Authority could better determine the grounds of the EPA claim. Port Authority served its interrogatories ten days later, and the EEOC responded on July 18, 2011. The Responses include a list of potential comparators for the relevant female attorneys and attempt to substantiate the EEOC's determination that the claimants and comparators are similarly situated because their jobs involve equal skill, effort, and responsibility.

In particular, Response 13 contends that the claimants' and comparators' jobs involve the same level of skill because they "do not require different experience, training, education, or ability." Rather, they involve "the same professional degree and admission to the bar," "problem-solving and analytical skills to identify, research, analyze, evaluate, and resolve legal issues clearly and persuasively," "the use of professional judgment and legal skills to draft, review and implement legal documents," "the ability to understand and comply with department, agency, and legal instructions and procedures," "the ability to consult with and provide legal advice to the same client," "the ability to interact and consult with outside legal staff or other Port Authority attorneys on client matters," "the same degree of diligence and persistence," and "the ability to manage time, meet deadlines, and prioritize assignments."

Response 15 makes similarly broad statements about the effort required of all attorneys in the law department. It notes that the jobs are "performed under time pressures and deadlines" and "require the same problem-solving and analytical efforts, the same efforts to draft, review, and implement legal documents, the same efforts to consult with and provide legal advice to the Port Authority, and the same efforts to interact and consult with outside legal staff or other Port Authority attorneys on client matters."

With respect to the responsibilities afforded the claimants and comparators, the EEOC provided a somewhat more tailored response. It contended in Response 16 that their jobs "require the same degree of accountability and supervision" because they "are all non-supervisory and have substantially the same reporting structure and the same level of supervision." It further noted that the jobs "are of equal significance" to Port Authority, all requiring the attorneys to "be able to respond to and act on behalf of the General Counsel" and exercise "independent judgment and discretion subject to the same level of oversight," and that the decisions resulting therefrom "affect the Port Authority's rights and liabilities."

These responses make clear that the EEOC is treating "all of the non-supervisory attorney jobs in [the] law department [as] substantially equivalent and requir[ing] the same skill, effort, and responsibility." (Response 22.) The EEOC justified this treatment in Response 14, which notes that "[t]he claimants and the comparators are in the same job grade or code" and hold "the same position title," as well as that "[t]he attorney maturity curve does not differentiate between divisions when setting a lower and upper limit on salaries based on years of legal experience." It further substantiates this treatment as justified because "[t]here are no job descriptions identifying different duties for the jobs" and "[t]he same criteria are used across all jobs to evaluate performance competencies, including project management, resource management, decision making and problem solving, technical expertise/background, communication, customer service, flexibility and adaptability, persuasion and influence, interpersonal skills, political acumen, and professional demeanor," as well as "[q]uality of work product, efficiency and timeliness, courtesy and collegiality, client satisfaction, and attendance." Moreover, "the subject areas practiced in [the] legal department have not been discrete or unconnected"; "[t]he same legal functions have been handled by various legal divisions, practice areas, and jobs"; and "[l]egal divisions have also been consolidated," abolishing "formal divisional lines[] and creat[ing] a business model that assigned work to attorneys working out of one litigation unit."

After receiving the Responses, Port Authority renewed its request for leave to dismiss the EPA claim. At an August 22, 2011 conference on that request, the EEOC agreed with the Court that its theory is that, at least at Port Authority, "an attorney is an attorney is an attorney." (Hr'g Tr. 6:6-7:6.) The Court subsequently granted Port Authority leave to file this motion, which it did on September 28, 2011.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal ...


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