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Brennan v. Corning Glass Works

June 28, 1973



Author: Adams

Before KALODNER, ALDISERT and ADAMS, Circuit Judges


ADAMS, Circuit Judge.

This action was commenced by the Secretary of Labor to enjoin claimed violations of the equal pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act*fn1 and to restrain the withholding of wages allegedly due certain female employees. The broad issue presented for the Court's judgment is whether Corning Glass Works engaged in wage discrimination violative of the Equal Pay Act*fn2 by paying more to night inspectors than to day inspectors at its Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant.

The basic factual pattern involved in this case implicates the Equal Pay Act because, for reasons that will be fully explained, infra, before October 16, 1966, night inspection work was performed exclusively by males and day inspection work largely by females. Thus, the Secretary asserts, in essence, that Corning paid male night inspectors more than female day inspectors for "equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions...."*fn3 The district court disagreed, and the case is now here on appeal.


The pay practices at the heart of this controversy developed over a period spanning more than forty-five years. Before 1925, Corning operated its Wellsboro Plant only during the day, finding it either unnecessary or undesirable to employ a night shift. All inspection work at that time was performed by women. The introduction of automated production equipment between 1925 and 1930, however, made it necessary or desirable for the first time to use night shifts.

Until 1947, Pennsylvania law absolutely prohibited the employment of women between the hours of midnight and 6:00 A.M.,*fn4 and thus, in order to fill inspector positions on the new steady night shift, Corning had to hire men. These night inspectors, selected from male employees within the plant, were paid for their night inspection work the individual rates they had previously been receiving. Such wages were higher than the rates paid to women engaged as inspectors on the day shift. A situation thus developed in which male inspectors worked at night, female inspectors during the day, and the male employees were paid at higher rates.*fn5

This wage differential was reinforced when, in 1944, the American Flint Glass Workers' Union organized the production and maintenance employees of Corning's Wellsboro Plant and negotiated a collective bargaining agreement providing, for the first time, a plant-wide night shift differential. Despite this new shift differential, serving as a premium for night work, the pre-existing wage difference between night shift inspectors and day shift inspectors continued in effect.*fn6

In 1947, Pennsylvania law was amended to permit women to work at night conditioned upon the approval of the State Department of Labor.*fn7 Under the applicable regulations, however, Corning could have employed women at night only if it would provide them transportation or if Wellsboro had public transportation. It was not economically feasible for Corning to furnish transportation to its female employees, and public transportation was unavailable. The 1947 state regulations were later amended in July, 1965 to permit night work for those women who had regular, private transportation.*fn8

Since October 16, 1966, by mutual agreement between the union and Corning, women have been permitted to exercise their seniority, on the same basis as men, to claim steady night shift jobs when vacancies occur.*fn9 A considerable number of female employees have availed themselves of this opportunity to take the higher-paying night shift inspection jobs.*fn10 In addition, several new female employees, as well as a new male employee, have been hired to work as night inspectors.*fn11

Thus, after October 16, 1966, female and male employees worked as inspectors on both the day and night shifts.

Male and female inspectors working the same shift have been and are paid at the same base hourly rate. Moreover, under the Corning Glass Works Plan of job evaluation installed on January 20, 1969, all employees hired after that date are paid the base wage rate for their job regardless of their sex or whether they work on the day or night shifts. The Corning Plan also provides for a "red circle" rate paid to persons employed before January 20, 1969, when working as night inspectors. Thus, all inspectors, male or female, who were employed before the date of the Corning Plan and who work on the steady night shift receive a higher base wage rate ("red circle") than their counterparts, male or female, of comparable seniority, working on the day shifts.


After finding the relevant facts, which were largely undisputed, and in any event mostly stipulated by the parties,*fn12 the district court held that the Secretary of Labor had not established that Corning violated the Equal Pay Act because he had "failed to sustain its burden of proof that the male inspectors on the night shift and the female inspectors on the day shift performed their work "under similar working conditions," within the meaning of that phrase under the Equal Pay Act. The district court reasoned that "time of day worked is a working condition," and that "night work has a significant sociological, psychological and physiological impact on most workers."

Urging reversal of the district court's judgment, the Secretary contends primarily that: (1) in view of the legislative history of the Equal Pay Act and controlling judicial precedents, shift differences are not properly classified as "working conditions" under the statute's equal work ...

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