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WETZEL v. LIBERTY MUT. INS. CO.

January 9, 1974

Sandra Wetzel et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant


Weber, J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

The two named Plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and all other female technical employees employed in Defendant Liberty Mutual Insurance Company's Claims Department (the Company) have filed a Complaint charging that the Company discriminated against women in hiring, job classification, promotions, and in the compensation and job benefits they received for the jobs they were allowed to hold.

 The Representative Plaintiffs are Sandra Wetzel, a woman, who was hired by Defendant Company as a "Claims Representative" in July 1967, and Mari Ross, who was hired by Defendant Company as a "Claims Representative" in September 1967. Both allege that they suffered discrimination by reason of their sex because of the hiring, job classification, pay differential, and employment benefit policies of Defendant Company, and that these policies were applied to all female technical employees in the Defendant's Claims Department throughout the nation where Defendant Company did business.

 The court determined that the action should proceed as a class action covering all female technical employees in the Defendant's Claims Department in the entire geographical area where the Company did business. The class as now defined includes all such employees who were hired or working for the Company in its Claims Department since July 2, 1965, the effective date of Title VII of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.

 Extensive discovery has been employed and the Plaintiffs now file a motion for partial summary judgment on certain of the issues raised. It is agreed between the parties that one of the issues, designated the "equal pay" issue, is not susceptible of summary judgment at this time because there are disputed issues of fact with respect to whether or not the work performed by women in the job classification of "Claims Representative" was equal to the work performed by men in the job classification of "Claims Adjuster" for which they were paid a substantially higher salary. However, the Plaintiffs at this time allege that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact with respect to the job classification under which men and women were originally hired as technical employees in the Claims Department, with regard to the promotional policy within the Claims Department, and with regard to the pregnancy and maternity leave policies of the Company including the disability income protection plan of the Company as applied to women on maternity leave.

 The key point of discrimination set forth in the pleadings, evidentiary material and briefs of the plaintiffs, and the amicus curiae brief of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the hiring policy of the Company, since original assignment in effect determines the employee's future chances of promotion within the Company. Because the Company in its Claims Department promotes from its own ranks, the opportunity for advancement depends upon the entry level position to which an employee is assigned upon first being employed by the Company's claim division. Promotion to the higher rank of Claims Supervisor was limited to persons holding the position of Claims Adjuster and throughout most of the period under consideration through 1970 was limited to male employees because all Claims Adjusters were male. On the other hand the entry level classification in the Company's Claims Department of "Claims Representative" was exclusively limited to women throughout most of the period under consideration here. There was no avenue of promotion to Claims Supervisor and higher supervisory positions from those personnel classified as "Claims Representatives" on entry into the Company in its Claims Division.

 There were two higher supervisory positions in the "Claims Representative" category, that of "Supervising Claims Representative" and "Claims Representative Supervisor", but no promotion beyond the second rank. Although the line of responsibility from "Claims Representative Supervisor" runs to "Claims Supervisor" there is no similar line of promotion because all "Claims Supervisors" are drawn from the ranks of "Claims Adjuster".

 The lines of responsibility and promotion are illustrated as follows:

 CLAIMS DEPARTMENT - TECHNICAL EMPLOYEES

 LINES OF RESPONSIBILITY AND PROMOTION

 Division Claims Manager

 Assistant Division Claims Manager

 Branch Office Claims Manager

 Branch Office Assistant Claims Manager

 Claims Supervisor

 Claims Representative Supervisor

 Supervising Claims Representative

 Claims Representative (CR) Claims Adjuster (CA)

 Lines of responsibility

 Lines of promotion

 The same educational requirements were in 1965 and thereafter until 1970 with respect to the hiring of "Claims Adjusters" and "Claims Representatives", a college degree. No prior experience in the insurance business was required and in fact the Company did not hire persons who had worked for other insurance companies in its entry level positions in the Claims Department.

 Although the Defendant Company had employed "Claims Adjusters" for a long period of time the position of "Claims Representative" was created in mid-1965. The position was created when the Company had decided to handle more of its claims work from inside its offices. A recruiting brochure for this position was prepared and circulated through college placement offices and employment agencies. The qualification for the "Claims Representative" position included a college degree. The recruiting brochure is entirely female oriented. Its title page bears the caption and picture identifying the position as a job fit for a queen. It shows women in its illustrations of persons performing their duties in this capacity. Between July 1, 1965 and the end of 1966, 401 persons were hired for the positions of "Claims Representative", not one of which was male. Between July 1, 1965 and March 17, 1972, 2,329 persons were hired as "Claims Representatives" of which 2,302 or 98.84% were women. The first male "Claims Representative" was hired in 1969, four in 1970, and twenty in 1971. During the period from 1965 until the end of 1970, the Company hired over 2,000 "Claims Adjusters", not one of which was female.

 The recruiting brochure used by the Company during this period describing the position and duties of "Claims Adjusters" was entirely male oriented, its illustrations showing men performing the duties of the position, and bearing the legend in large type, "Are you the right man?", and reciting the avenues of advancement from Claims Adjuster through Branch Office Claims Manager, Division Claims Manager, Manager Home Office Examiners' Division, and so on up the ladder. The Company promoted to advanced positions in its Claims Department solely from those persons who had served it in the capacity of "Claims Adjuster".

 The two Representative Plaintiffs were hired in the position of "Claims Representative" and they have deposed that in answer to their inquiries they were informed that the position of "Claims Adjuster", the beginning of the promotional ladder in the Claims Department, was not available for women. It has been admitted by representatives of the Defendant that the two named Representative Plaintiffs were qualified for the position of "Claims Adjuster" at the time of the original hiring.

 It would serve little purpose to recite in detail the great mass of statistical evidence which the Plaintiffs have produced in support of their contention that the two initial entry positions were segregated between male and female applicants, that the educational requirement for both positions was the same, that no prior insurance experience was required for either position, that the functions performed in these positions were very similar, that the pay differential between the positions was substantial, being approximately $2,500 per year greater for the Claims Adjuster, that prior to 1971 no opportunity was given to women "Claims Representatives" to qualify for the position of "Claims Adjuster", and that all promotions to higher positions in the Claims Department were made from the ranks of the exclusively male "Claims Adjuster" classification.

 In addition to the statistical evidence which is unrebutted here the Plaintiffs have produced additional supporting evidence of the Company's employment policies with respect to women in the Claims Division. Much of this evidence is in the form of oral testimony and affidavits which may be subject to a question of credibility but a good deal of the supporting evidence is documentary and supports the Plaintiffs' contention of a recognized pattern of treating the male and female employees in the Claims Department differently in respect to recruitment, hiring classifications, promotional opportunities, and salary.

 We are not speaking of salary or compensation with respect to the question of whether equal pay was given for the same work but in connection with the entry level salary paid for the two classifications and the salary differential between "Claims Representatives" of considerable experience and the starting salary which they could receive when openings were finally made available to "Claims Representatives" to become "Claims Adjusters".

 Two sections of Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 are applicable to our consideration of Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) provides in part:

 
"The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
 
"When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits, or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against him."

 The Plaintiffs have relied chiefly on statistical evidence in support of their contention of discriminatory employment policies and in many cases the courts have accepted such evidence in determination of whether Title VII has been violated. Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970); Witherspoon v. Mercury Freight Lines, Inc., 457 F.2d 496 (5th Cir. 1972); Bing v. Roadway Express, Inc., 444 F.2d 687 (5th Cir. 1971); Rowe v. General Motors Corp., 457 F.2d 348 (5th Cir. 1972). In accordance with these decisions and under the doctrine of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973), once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case by setting forth statistics of this kind the burden is on the employer to sufficiently explain the disparity in hiring; conclusory statements that the employer never discriminated in hiring is insufficient to satisfy this burden. As stated in McDonnell, supra, "The burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the respondent's rejection." (p. 802). We are of the opinion that the Defendant's response to the Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment fails to address this burden at all, let alone rebut the Plaintiffs' evidence.

 The response of the Defendant raises eight issues of defense, as follows:

 1.

 Neither of the named Representative Plaintiffs is currently in the employ of the Defendant. This is not a contested issue of fact. The Plaintiffs admit that both the representative party Plaintiffs have left the employ of Defendant and the question of whether or not their termination from employment was voluntary or forced by discriminatory employment practices of the Defendant is not an issue before us at this time. This is a matter of law concerning standing and it has been held that a former employee may bring an action to enforce rights under this statute claimed to have been infringed. In Hackett v. McGuire Bros., Inc., 445 F.2d 442 (3rd Cir. 1971) this contention was rejected;

 
"The national public policy reflected . . . in Title VII . . . may not be frustrated by the development of overly technical judicial doctrines of standing or election of remedies. If the plaintiff is sufficiently aggrieved so that he claims enough injury in fact to present a genuine case or controversy in the Article III sense, then he should have standing to sue in his own right and as a class representative." (pp. 446, 447).

 The Circuit Court continued:

 
"A person claiming to be aggrieved may never have been an employee of the defendant. Indeed the Act forbids discrimination not only by employers, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2), but also by potential employers, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (1), by labor organizations, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(c), and by employment agencies, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(2)(b). An aggrieved person obviously is any person aggrieved by any of the forbidden practices. (pp. 445-446).

 An interesting commentary on the argument asserted to this court was made in Reed v. Arlington Hotel Co., Inc., 476 F.2d 721 (8th Cir. 1973):

 2.

 The Defendant argues that the representative party Plaintiffs were offered "Claims Adjuster" status and has filed evidence to this effect. This is not denied by Plaintiffs but they contend that the terms of the offer were unacceptable and were made after the charges of discrimination were filed in this case with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1971. We find this to be a disputed issue of fact which may be relevant to the question of damages of the representative party Plaintiffs, but irrelevant to the question of violation of the statute which is before us. Under all circumstances, it is shown by the evidence that the offer of "Claims Adjuster" status was made long after the effective date of the statute in question, after both representative Plaintiffs had been employed in the positions of "Claims Representatives" for several years, and after the filing of the Complaints before the EEOC in this matter.

 3.

 Defendant claims that there is a dispute as to the content of conversations between representatives of the Company and a representative of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. This alleged conversation bears on the Company's motive and intent in offering "Claims Adjuster" status to the named-Plaintiffs at the time that it did. We find this completely immaterial to the issue before us at this time because the offer of Claims Adjuster status was not made until the alleged discriminatory practices in violation of Title VII of the Act had continued for several years and the issue had been raised by a Complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the named Plaintiffs.

 4.

 The Defendant contends that there is a disputed issue of fact on the question of whether or not the qualifications and entrance requirements for the position of "Claims Adjuster" are substantially different from those of "Claims Representative". Although with respect to the duties and responsibilities of each position which we have previously designated as the "equal pay" issue, not before the Court on this Summary Judgment motion, nevertheless we are concerned at this time with whether or not qualified female applicants were excluded from the position of "Claims Adjuster" and its subsequent promotional ladder. The statistical evidence shows that of more than 2,000 persons hired for the position of "Claims Adjuster" up through 1970, not one was female. The Defendant's own representatives have admitted that the representative Plaintiffs in this case were qualified for the position of "Claims Adjuster" at the time of original hiring. Therefore, we find that the Defendant has not met the burden of showing why no female personnel were hired for the "Claims Adjuster" position during the period following the effective date of Title VII until sometime after August 1971 and subsequent to the filing of complaints in the within matter. Plaintiffs contention is further supported by evidence that no female employees occupied the supervisory position of "Claims Supervisor" in the Company which were filled from the ranks of the "Claim Adjusters" until at least 1970. If the jobs were substantially dissimilar as the Defendant claims, the differential in starting salary may be justified but the total exclusion of women from entry into the higher paid "Claims Adjuster" position would remain as a discriminatory practice, and the promotional policy of the company in drawing all of its supervisory personnel from the ranks of the exclusively male " Claims Adjusters" continued and emphasized the discriminatory effect of the policy. Therefore, we find that the Defendant's argument of a difference in the qualifications or duties of the two positions is immaterial to the Plaintiffs' charge that women were discriminated against in the selection of persons to fill the "Claim Adjuster" position. The company has offered no evidence of any bona fide occupational qualification to justify the complete exclusion of women for this position for over a period of five years, particularly in view of its later determination that some women "Claims Representatives" were qualified for and were offered these positions.

 5.

 The Defendant argues that it is not clearly established by the evidence that a large number of Defendant's female employees were desirous of and qualified for better positions. We cannot see the materiality of this argument to the question presently before us. The undisputed evidence establishes that after charges were filed in this case, the Defendant did interview its "Claims Representatives" and that 10% of them were offered and accepted positions as "Claims Adjusters". It was further established by testimony of a Company representative that the Company considered one-third of its women "Claims Representatives" to be qualified for the position of "Claims Adjuster". We fail to see how these facts alter the statistical evidence that of the more than 2,000 " Claims Adjusters" hired between 1965 and 1970 none were women, that all of the "Claims Representatives" hired during this period were women, that no woman in the job classification of "Claims Representative" was ever promoted to the ...


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