Equal Pay Act Claim

Equal Pay

Equal Pay Act Claim

In Allen v. Staples, Inc. (September 20, 2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 188, the Court of Appeal reversed
a summary judgment granted in favor of the employer in a case asserting claims for violation of
the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The plaintiff worked for Staples as an area sales manager (ASM).
Staples’ employees were paid an annual salary based on the grade corresponding to their
position. An employee’s salary within the particular grade was determined by several factors,
including seniority, number of years in the position, and performance.

The ASM position had a salary range between $65,000 and $135,000. Plaintiff was initially paid
approximately $85,000/year, and $87,000 two years later. One of her male co-workers, Narlock,
was paid almost $108,000 as an ASM, or $22,000 more than the plaintiff when she started in
this position. Another male co-worker was paid around $111,000, and a female co-worker was
paid approximately $128,000. Staples also presented evidence that women were among the
highest paid area sales managers, and that six male ASMs were paid less than the plaintiff.

Plaintiff was promoted to the field sales director (FSD) position, with a salary range of $80,000
to $160,000. Plaintiff did not receive a raise, and was paid the same salary as she received as
an ASM, or around $87,000/year. By comparison, Narlock, who had also been promoted to
FSD, was paid more than $140,000/year. The evidence also showed that five female FSDs
were paid a higher salary than males, and that the Plaintiff was paid more than three male

Based on this evidence, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Staples. On
appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed. To establish a prima facie claim for wage discrimination
under the EPA, the Court held that a plaintiff must prove that the employer pays different wages
to employees doing substantially similar work based on gender. The burden then shifts to the
employer to prove the disparity is based on factors other than sex. The plaintiff must then show
that she was paid less than a male comparator, and that the comparator was performing
substantially similar work. To meet this burden, it is only necessary for the plaintiff to establish a
pay disparity with at least one male comparator.

The Plaintiff’s evidence that Narlock was paid $22,000 more as an ASM, and $48,000 more as
an FSD, and Staples’ failure to present specific evidence explaining why Narlock was paid more
was enough to defeat summary judgment. Staples’ evidence that salaries were generally based
on factors such as seniority, years of experience in the position and merit, was not sufficient to
overcome the Plaintiff’s evidence that she was paid less than Narlock for substantially similar

As such, the Court of Appeal ruled that a triable issue of fact existed, which precludes summary
judgment for the employer. Parties litigating EPA claims must pay close attention to the Court’s
ruling in Allen, and the evidence that both sides must present to establish a claim or defense
under the statute. General evidence regarding the employer’s pay practices is not sufficient for

the employer to defend the claim if the plaintiff can demonstrate at least one male employee
was paid more for substantially similar work.

Jeff Fuchsman