JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) – A large poultry processing company is waiting to find out if a federal judge buys its explanation for why a male employee is making more than a female who complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after finding his paystub in his desk.
In August, Koch Foods filed its motion for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Northern Division in a lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of Yulanda Brown, alleging violations of the 1963 Equal Pay Act (EPA).
The EEOC alleged Brown's starting pay was $35,000 and her male counterpart Danny Weems was given a starting pay of $50,000 at the company's Morton, MS, plant.
Of course, Weems was 49 at the time of his hiring and had 15 years of experience as a supervisor. Brown started with the company at 24 with no experience in the poultry industry, and her subsequent promotion to plant coordinator gave her different tasks than Weems' and a shorter workday, Koch Foods says.
In 2014, Brown saw one of Weems' paystubs in his desk drawer and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
"Discovery has unequivocally established, however, that Brown and Weems do not perform the same job requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility and performed under the same working conditions and that the difference in pay between them is not because of gender," Koch Foods wrote.
"Moreover, Brown ultimately conceded in discovery that she 'can't say' that the pay difference is because of gender."
Judge William Barbour is in charge of deciding whether to dismiss the case.
Weems had 24 years of experience in the poultry industry and was making $46,000 when he interviewed with Koch Foods, which hired him at a salary of $50,000.
Weems has maintained production schedules, worked 10-12 hour days, worked on the production floor entire days and ensured products were shipped to customer priorities.
Brown started at Koch Foods as a clerk who made $10 per hour. After two months, she was promoted and received a $35,000 salary.
Her position requires her to generate a daily production schedule using Excel and supervises the box room during 8 a.m.-5 p.m. work days.
In EEOC’s opposition to the motion, it claims that Brown and Weems hold the same position, including job duties and hours worked, and argue that Koch cannot meet its burden that Weems is paid at a higher rate base on any other influence than gender since they both equally complete production orders and schedules, track inventory, communicate to team floor members and supervise employees.
“Defendant has not challenged, nor can it challenge, that it is an employer subject to the EPA,” EEOC attorney Kurt Fischer wrote in the EEOC response.
“Nor has defendant disputed that Brown was and is paid less than her male comparator, Weems. Instead, defendant’s argument that the EEOC has failed to make a prima facie case rests solely on its contention that Brown's and Weems’ respective positions required substantially different levels of skill, effort and responsibility and/or were not performed under similar working conditions."
Koch Foods says the pay differential is justified under the fourth exception incorporated in the EPA, because the pay differential is based on factors other than sex.
In its response, the EEOC submitted personnel action forms that it says proves that Koch has stated the two employees hold the same position.
“Koch documented promotions and status changes for Weems and Brown in personnel action forms placed in their employment files,” the EEOC wrote in the response. “On Brown’s Personnel Action Form dated Oct. 29, 2007, it states under the remarks section, ‘Yulanda will fill the position as Morton Plant Coordinator.’ Similarly, a personnel action form, dated April 10, 2003, for Weems shows the title ‘production coordinator’ under his job description.
“While prior salary of an employee may be considered in connection with other factors, prior salary standing alone cannot justify a disparity in pay. Koch cannot establish salary negotiation as a bona fide factor other than sex. If negotiation is not available to persons of both sexes, it cannot be a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for a pay differential.”
Koch Foods stated sex has nothing to do with it - “The Plant Coordinator and Inventory Control positions are not the same, do not require equal skill, effort, or responsibility, and are not performed under the same working conditions."
“The circumstances surrounding her hire, her experience, and her skills were not on equal footing with Weems," the company says.