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Female Pharmacist Alleges Wage Discrimination

Larry M. Simonsmeier, JD, RPh
Published Online: Friday, August 1, 2003   [ Request Print ]

Issue of the Case:
An Ohio federal court was asked whether a female pharmacist was paid less than comparable male employees in violation of the Equal Pay Act.

Facts of the Case:
The facts are simple and straightforward. The plaintiff was employed as a pharmacist for a large national corporation. She alleged that her salary was lower than that of a male coworker who performed similar duties. The evidence confirmed that the coworker was, in fact, paid more than the plaintiff. The coworker had earlier sold his pharmacy to the defendant corporation and, as part of the deal, became its employee. His salary was negotiated as part of the buyout. The plaintiff further claimed that her wages were lower than those of other male pharmacists employed by the defendant in the region. A regional vice president for the defendant asserted that the salary differences among stores were attributable to the fact that the duties and responsibilities of pharmacists varied depending upon the stores? locations, some of which were in busy urban areas.

The Court?s Ruling:
The trial court determined that, although the coworker was paid more, the defendant had an affirmative defense. The court also concluded that the plaintiff had not produced any evidence that her responsibilities were equal to those of other pharmacists in the region. The appellate court agreed to the decision regarding the coworker, but it was unable to agree with the lower court?s determination that the defendant?s other pharmacists could not be used as comparable employees.

The Court?s Reasoning:
Both courts found that, although the coworker was paid more than the plaintiff, the salary difference was legitimately based on a factor other than sex, because it was negotiated as part of the buyout of the coworker?s store. Regarding comparisons with other pharmacists in the region, the appellate court noted that "equal work" does not require identical jobs, but only that there exists substantial equality of skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. Each of these terms must be met in order for the equal pay standard to apply.

The defendant did not argue that there was a difference in the skill required by its pharmacists, nor were working conditions at issue. A pair of the corporation?s representatives acknowledged that pharmacists in all of its stores share the same primary duties of filling prescriptions and serving customers. A manager testified that "the most significant differences between pharmacists? responsibilities from store to store [are] the type of clientele that shops there and the demands of the particular customers in different stores in different areas." Thus, the evidence suggested that the type of clientele and their demands were the only differences among the stores. The defendant failed to explain how these potential differences impacted its wage determinations. In fact, the defendant?s witnesses essentially admitted that the duties of all of its pharmacists are the same. The case was returned to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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