equal pay

Beranbaum Menken LLP Representing Women in Two Equal Pay Act Cases

In two separate lawsuits filed in federal court, Beranbaum Menken LLP is representing women who were systematically underpaid and discriminated against because of their gender. In one case, Laurie Spina, M.D. v. Downtown Bronx Medical Assoc., P.C., Dr.  Spina, an anesthesiologist  working at Lincoln Hospital, sued her employer for paying her and other female anesthesiologists less than male anesthesiologists although they performed the same or similar work. Dr. Spina, as well as other female anesthesiologists, also experienced a sexually hostile workplace at the hospital. As an example, the department chair and at least one other male doctor routinely called them "bitches," and a number of the male anesthesiologists made a point of not referring to their female counterparts as "doctor," only as "Ma'am." The females were passed over for prestigious committees and as "team leaders" in favor of more junior, less experienced male doctors. When Dr. Spina complained about the discrimination, the department brought disciplinary charges against her for bogus reasons, and the chair pressured her to quit. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that Dr. Spina was discriminated against because of her gender and subjected to a hostile environment. After we filed the lawsuit, the defendant, represented by the City of New York, brought a motion to dismiss the complaint. The U.S. District Court, however, denied the motion in its entirety and Dr. Spina is vigorously pursuing the litigation.

In the other case, Lorraine Porter-Bell v. Port Authority of NY & NJ, Ms. Porter-Bell worked for the Port Authority for 31 years. She retired in 2010 holding the position of Senior Project Manager in the Port Authority's Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals Department. Ms. Porter-Bell quit soon after learning the extent of the pay inequity to which the Port Authority was subjecting her: In 2010, the Port Authority employed 47 Senior Project Managers doing the same kind of work as Ms. Porter-Bell. Of the 47 Senior Project Managers, 39 were male. And of the 39 male Senior Project Managers, 38, or all but one, were paid more than Ms. Porter-Bell -- some of them as much as 30% more. The Port Authority, like the defendant in Dr. Spina's case, sought to have the case dismissed. But the firm was successful in opposing the motion to dismiss, and the litigation continues.


Exciting Developments for Women’s Rights in New York

With civil rights legislation generally stalled in Congress, there is a very real chance for the expansion of women’s rights in New York State. Governor Cuomo recently introduced the Women's Equality Act, his ten-point program to provide women greater protection in and outside the workplaces. Five of the Women's Equality Act’s ten points relate directly to women’s equality on the job. Those five points are:

• Amending the New York State Equal Pay Act to narrow the defenses that employers can raise for paying women lower wages than men who do similar work; to increase liquidated damages (a kind of punitive damages) to three times the actual wage loss; and to protect employees against retaliation for sharing wage information with coworkers.

• Amending the State Human Rights Law to protect victims of sex harassment in establishments with fewer than four employees. Right now, an employer must have at least four employees for the State anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws to apply.

• Attorney's fees will be available under the State Human Rights Law in sex discrimination cases. This part of the law actually does not go far enough, and through the New York chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Assn., Beranbaum Menken LLP is working to get that part of the bill changed, so that all victims of discrimination who prevail in litigation, not just women, are entitled to attorney’s fees. Without the right to attorney’s fees, lawyers will be reluctant to take cases on behalf of low and middle income workers.

• Amending the State Human Rights Law to cover discrimination based on familial status – meaning an employer would not be able to discriminate against employees because they are single, married, have or do not have children.

• Amending the State Human Rights Law to require that employers offer reasonable accommodation for pregnancy related conditions.

The Women's Equality Act is very significant legislation that promises to fill some important gaps in New York State’s employment laws as they apply to women. The current Legislative session ends on the 17th of June. If you want to help get this legislation passed, the best thing you can do is to call Senator Dean Skelos (Rep. leader) 518-455-3171 and Senator Jeff Klein (Dem. Leader) 518-455-3595. You will either get the voice mail or phone answerer. All you need to say is that you are a New Yorker; you support the Women's Equality Act and all you ask of the Senator is that he allows the bill to go to the floor for a democratic vote. It is a matter of process. Also, you should call or email your own Assembly person and senator, tell her/him that you are a constituent and urge their support of the bill.