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Day v. Bethlehem Center School Dist.

May 9, 2008

JANET DAY AND PAULA LANCAS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BETHLEHEM CENTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Janet J. Day (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Day") and Paula S. Lancas (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Lancas") filed this civil action against Defendant Bethlehem Center School District (hereinafter "Defendant"),alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act ("EPA") of 1963, 29 U.S.C. §206(d)(1), and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by way of 42 U.S.C. §1983.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Day and Lancas are female teachers employed by Defendant. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ ¶ 2-3). Day has worked for Defendant since the 1999-2000 academic year. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 2; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 2). She has been employed during that time as a speech/language pathologist/speech correction teacher. Id. Day holds both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in education and speech pathology, and she is certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach speech pathology/correction. Id. Prior to beginning her employment with Defendant, Day had six years of experience as a speech/language pathologist for the Washington County Intermediate Unit I. (Docket No. 16 at ¶3; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 3).

Lancas has worked for the Defendant since the 2001-2002 academic year. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 4; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 4). She has been employed during that time as a high school French teacher. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 4; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 4). Lancas holds both a Bachelor's and Master's degree, and is certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach French, elementary education, and early childhood education. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 5; Docket No. 26 at ¶5). Prior to beginning her employment with Defendant, Lancas had nineteen years of experience as a teacher: eight years in Pennsylvania public schools, one year in Ohio public schools, and ten years in parochial schools of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 6; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 6).

The Bethlehem-Center School Board of Education and the Bethlehem Center Teachers' Association are parties to a collective bargaining agreement, which includes two salary scales, a Bachelor's salary scale and a Master's salary scale. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 1; Docket No. 24 at ¶ 1). Defendant's Board of School Directors (hereinafter "Board") can negotiate with an individual to establish initial placement on the salary scale upon hire. (Docket No. 20 at ¶2; Docket No. 24 at ¶ 2). As part of the hiring process, the Superintendent recommends to the Board the initial step placement for a new teacher.*fn1 (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 3; Docket No. 24 at ¶ 3).

Defendant pays its teachers pursuant to a salary scale in which education and years of teaching experience combine.*fn2 (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 7; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 7). Every year of experience causes a teacher to move up on the salary scale. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 8; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 8). Thus, Plaintiffs assert that a teacher with no experience is paid on the salary scale at Step 1; a teacher with one year of experience is paid on salary scale Step 2, and so on. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 8). Defendant disputes this fact, and contends that although the vast majority of professional employees have entered the salary scale at Step 1, the Board can negotiate with an individual to establish initial placement on the salary scale upon hire.

Teachers with a Master's Degree are paid on the Master's Scale, and teachers with a Bachelor's degree on the Bachelor's scale, but the salary steps based on experience are used in both. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 9; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 9). However, no one is moved to the Master Degree scale for at least three years. Even though a Step 1 designation exists on the Master Degree scale, it takes a newly hired teacher three years before he or she is moved to the Master Degree scale. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 10; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 10). It is Defendant's practice that teachers are generally hired at Step 1 of the salary scale regardless of whether they teach elementary school or high school, and regardless of the subject they teach. Thus, if a teacher teaches English or science, they are paid the same if they are both on the same salary scale step. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 11; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 11). Defendant does not have a different schedule based on teaching one subject versus another subject. If a teacher occupies a certain salary step, he or she is paid the same, whether teaching physics or kindergarten. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 12; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 12). As a general rule, Defendant does not award salary step credit for teaching experience with other school districts. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 13; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 13).*fn3 Defendant places the vast majority of experienced teachers it hires at Step 1 on the salary scale. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 14; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 14).

When Day began employment with Defendant during the 1999-2000 school year, she was hired at salary Step 1. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 10). When Lancas commenced employment with Defendant during the 2001-2002 school year, she was hired at salary Step 2. Id. at ¶ 11.

Day and Lancas allege that during the period since January 16, 2004, Defendant has violated the EPA by paying its male teachers performing duties requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility more than it has paid both of them. Id. at ¶ 9. They have identified two male teachers employed by Defendant to serve as comparators for the purpose of establishing their Equal Pay Act claim. (Docket No. 16 at ¶¶ 19- 23). The first comparator, Joseph Kuhns is a male art teacher employed by Defendant. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 19). Kuhns began employment during the 1999-2000 school term.(Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23). Prior to beginning employment with Defendant, Kuhns had one year of teaching experience with Chartiers-Houston School District, located in Western Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23). Kuhns was hired at pay Step 2 by Defendant. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23). The second comparator, Sean Virgili is a male special education teacher employed by Defendant. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 19). Virgili began his employment during the 2000-2001 school year. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23). Prior to beginning employment with Defendant, Virgili had two and a half years of teaching experience with Washington School District, located in Western Pennsylvania.*fn4 (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23). Virgili was hired at pay Step 3 by Defendant. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 23).

Plaintiffs allege that, by hiring the male-comparators, Kuhns and Virgili at higher initial pay steps, these male employees were given full credit for each year of prior teaching experience they had acquired within Pennsylvania, whereas neither Plaintiff was given such credit for her prior teaching experience. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ ¶ 23-28). Plaintiffs assert that this practice resulted in male teachers being paid more than they were being paid, for duties requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility, although they both had more prior teaching experience than their male counterparts. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 15). Thus, during the 2006-2007 school year, Day was being compensated at pay Step 8, although she had thirteen years of teaching experience by this time; likewise Lancas was being paid at pay Step 7, although she had twenty-four years of teaching experience. Id. at ¶¶ 16-18.*fn5 In comparison, during 2006-2007, male teacher Kuhns was being paid at step 9 although he had seven years of teaching experience, and Virgili was being compensated at step 10, although he had only six and a half years of experience. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 26. at ¶ 19).

Defendant provided the following responses when asked in interrogatories to explain the salary disparities between Lancas and Day. (Docket No. 16 at ¶¶ 25-27). First, Defendant claims Lancas was not provided salary credit for her experience because her experience was not at Defendant's District; second, Defendant contends it was not required to provide salary step credit for teaching experience in a private school, and finally, Defendant claims it "reserved the right" to assign salary step placement as it saw fit. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 26; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 26). Asked the same question concerning Day, Defendant responded with essentially the same reasons: Day had no previous experience at Defendant's District, Defendant was not required to credit teaching experience in the Intermediate Unit, and Defendant's Board "reserved the right" to assign salary step placement as it saw fit. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 27; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 27). Plaintiff maintains that the above three reasons offered by Defendant do not explain why Lancas and Day were denied salary step credit for their experience, while Kuhns and Virgili were offered full credit for their experience. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 25). Defendant disputes Plaintiffs' interpretation and contends these responses provide evidence as to its reasons for the salary disparities. (Docket No. 26 at ¶ 25).

Plaintiffs state that Defendant's Rule 30(b)(6) designee, Karen Downie, and its School Board members echo the same explanations that Defendant provided in its answers to interrogatories, none of which explain the salary disparities. (Docket No. 16 at ¶¶ 28-32). In response, Defendant disputes Plaintiffs' interpretation. Defendant contends that Ms. Downies' and the board members' testimony provides ample evidence as to Defendant's reasons for the salary disparity, and emphasizes that said testimony consistently reiterates the following additional reasons as well: the Board of School Directors can negotiate with an individual to establish initial placement on the salary scale upon hired (Docket No. 26 at ¶¶ 28; 29); the board generally tried to hire the best qualified candidate at the lowest cost (Id. at ¶ 29; the board's general practice was to hire teachers at step 1 (Id. at ¶¶ 28, 29); Lancas never told the Defendant that she would not come to the District if she was not hired on Step 13 (Id. at ¶ 28); although Day asked whether the District would consider her prior experience with regard to her salary, she did not make a demand; accordingly, the Board voted to hire her at Step 1, and she accepted this offer (Id. at ¶ 29).

Specifically, Plaintiffs highlight the testimony of several Board members and superintendents who served at the times when Plaintiffs and male-comparators, Kuhns and Virgili were hired and who were asked about Defendant's hiring decisions pertaining to these individuals. Plaintiffs maintain that Thomas Bair, the former Board Chairman, stated that the Board was not required under Pennsylvania law to provide Plaintiffs with full salary step credit for their teaching experience. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 37). Defendant admits that this was his testimony, but disputes that this was his full testimony, further explaining that the District's solicitor had advised the Board that it was not required to provide step credit for Intermediate Unit experience. His personal objective was to hire the highest qualified candidate at Step 1 unless the District could not find anyone who would accept Step 1. (Docket No. 26 at ¶ 37). Plaintiffs further maintain that Mr. Bair stated that Defendant hired male-comparator Kuhns at Step 2 because he had taught 1 year at another school district, and that was the only reason. ( Docket No. 16 at ¶ 41). To the contrary, Defendant contends that Mr. Bair testified that Mr. Kuhns was hired at Step 2 because he had two years at a public school. (Docket No. 26 at ¶ 41). Mr. Bair also explained that male-comparator Virgili was hired at Step 3 because of his public school experience, and no other reason. (Docket No.16at ¶ 42; Docket No. 26 at ¶ 42).

When Donald Bartolomucci, the former Vice Chairman of the Board, was asked to explain the disparity between the women teachers' salaries and those of their male counterparts, he concluded that it was probably because the male teachers had experience in the school district from which they were coming from and that the Plaintiffs accepted the salaries offered to them by the Board. (Docket No. 16 at ¶ 35). When asked specifically why Kuhns was offered Step 2, and Day only offered Step 1, and why Virgili was offered Step 3 but Lancas only Step 2, he stated that he did not know and could not answer the questions posed. Id. Defendant disputes Plaintiffs' summary of Mr. Bartolomucci's testimony as to Defendant's explanation for the salary disparities (Docket No. 26 at ¶ 35) and denies that he was unable to offer any further explanation in regard to Kuhns and Virgili. (Docket No. 26 at ¶ 36). Plaintiffs maintain that other Board members and superintendents who served when Day, Lancas and the male-comparators, Kuhns and Virgili, were hired offered no further explanation of the salary disparities. Id. at ¶ 36.*fn6

As noted above, Defendant alleges that any disparity between the initial step placement of Plaintiffs and the male comparators was based on a factor other then sex, i.e. the males' insistence that they would not come to the District for lower than a particular step placement. (Docket No. 18 at ¶ 6). During an interview with Defendant prior to being hired, male-comparator Kuhns stated that he needed to be placed on Step 2 in order to come to Defendant's District. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 37). Plaintiffs dispute this assertion as stated. Rather, they contend that during a discussion, Kuhns was asked what salary he was seeking, and told the Board that he would require Step 2 to teach there probably. (Docket No. 24 at ¶ 37). Further, after Kuhns told Defendant he wanted Step 2, he never talked to any administrator or board member about salary, and no one ever told him the salary was offered on a take it or leave it basis. Id. Likewise, Defendant states that it initially offered male-comparator Virgili his position at Step 1, but that he told Defendant that he was interested in the position but he "would not come work [for Defendant] for less than Step 3." (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 48).

Accordingly, he was hired at Step 3 because that was the minimum starting salary he would accept to leave his job and come to the District. Id. at ΒΆ 49. Plaintiffs dispute ...


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