452 U.S. 161 (1981), 80-429, County of Washington v. Gunther

Docket Nº:No. 80-429
Citation:452 U.S. 161, 101 S.Ct. 2242, 68 L.Ed.2d 751
Party Name:County of Washington v. Gunther
Case Date:June 08, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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452 U.S. 161 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 2242, 68 L.Ed.2d 751

County of Washington

v.

Gunther

No. 80-429

United States Supreme Court

June 8, 1981

Argued March 23, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate in his employment practices on the basis of sex, the last sentence of § 703(h) of Title VII (Bennett Amendment) provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for any employer to differentiate upon the basis of sex in determining the amount of its employees' wages if such differentiation is "authorized" by the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The latter Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), prohibits employers from [101 S.Ct. 2244] discriminating on the basis of sex by paying lower wages to employees of one sex than to employees of the other for performing equal work,

except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.

Respondents, women who were employed as guards in the female section of petitioner county's jail until this section was closed, filed suit under Title VII for backpay and other relief, alleging, inter alia, that they had been paid lower wages than male guards in the male section of the jail and that part of this differential was attributable to intentional sex discrimination, since the county set the pay scale for female guards, but not for male guards, at a level lower than that warranted by its own survey of outside markets and the worth of the jobs. The District Court rejected this claim, ruling as a matter of law that a sex-based wage discrimination claim cannot be brought under Title VII unless it would satisfy the equal work standard of the Equal Pay Act. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The Bennett Amendment does not restrict Title VII's prohibition of sex-based wage discrimination to claims for equal pay for "equal work." Rather, claims for sex-based wage discrimination can also be brought under Title VII even though no member of the opposite sex holds an equal but higher paying job, provided that the challenged wage rate is not exempted under the Equal Pay Act's affirmative defenses as to wage differentials attributable to seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or any other factor other than sex. Pp. 167-181.

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(a) The language of the Bennett Amendment -- barring sex-based wage discrimination claims under Title VII where the pay differential is "authorized" by the Equal Pay Act -- suggests an intention to incorporate into Title VII only the affirmative defenses of the Equal Pay Act, not its prohibitory language requiring equal pay for equal work, which language does not "authorize" anything at all. Nor does this construction of the Amendment render it superfluous. Although the first three affirmative defenses are redundant of provisions elsewhere in § 703(h) of Title VII, the Bennett Amendment guarantees a consistent interpretation of like provisions in both statutes. More importantly, incorporation of the fourth affirmative defense could have significant consequences for Title VII litigation. Pp. 168-171.

(b) The Bennett Amendment's legislative background is fully consistent with this interpretation, and does not support an alternative ruling. Pp. 171-176.

(c) Although some of the earlier interpretations of the Bennett Amendment by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may have supported the view that no claim of sex discrimination in compensation may be brought under Title VII except where the Equal Pay Act's "equal work" standard is met, other Commission interpretations frequently adopted the opposite position. And the Commission, in its capacity as amicus curiae, now supports respondents' position. Pp. 177-178.

(d) Interpretation of the Bennett Amendment as incorporating only the affirmative defenses of the Equal Pay Act draws additional support from the remedial purposes of the statutes, and interpretations of Title VII that deprive victims of discrimination of a remedy, without clear congressional mandate, must be avoided. Pp. 178-180.

(e) The contention that respondents' interpretation of the Bennett Amendment places the pay structure of virtually every employer and the entire economy at risk and subject to scrutiny by the federal courts is inapplicable here. Respondents contend that the county evaluated the worth of their jobs and determined that they should be paid approximately 95% as much as the male officers; that it paid them only about 70% as much, while paying the male officers the full evaluated worth of their jobs; and that the failure of the county to pay respondents the full evaluated worth of their jobs can be proved to be attributable to intentional sex discrimination. Thus, the suit does not require a court to make its own subjective assessment of the value of the jobs, or to attempt by statistical technique or other method to quantify the effect of sex discrimination on the wage rates. Pp. 180-181.

602 F.2d 882 and 623 F.2d 1303, affirmed.

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BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and, STEWART and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 181.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether § 703(h) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 257, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h), restricts Title VII's prohibition of sex-based wage discrimination to claims of equal pay for equal work.

I

This case arises over the payment by petitioner County of Washington, Ore., of substantially lower wages to female

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guards in the female section of the county jail than it paid to male guards in the male section of the jail.1 Respondents are four women who were employed to guard female prisoners and to carry out certain other functions in the jail.2 In January, 1974, the county eliminated the female section of the jail, transferred the female prisoners to the jail of a nearby county, and discharged respondents. 20 FEP Cases 788, 790 (Ore.1976).

Respondents filed suit against petitioners in Federal District Court under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., seeking backpay and other relief.3 They alleged that they were paid unequal wages for work substantially equal to that performed by male guards, and in the alternative, that part of the pay differential was attributable to intentional sex discrimination.4 The latter allegation was based on a claim

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that, because of intentional discrimination, the county set the pay scale for female guards, but not for male guards, at a level lower than that warranted by its own survey of outside markets and the worth of the jobs.

After trial, the District Court found that the male guards supervised more than 10 times as many prisoners per guard as did the female guards, and that the females devoted much of their time to less valuable clerical duties. It therefore held that respondents' jobs were not substantially equal to those of the male guards, and that respondents were thus not entitled to equal [101 S.Ct. 2246] pay. 20 FEP Cases, at 791. The Court of Appeals affirmed on that issue, and respondents do not seek review of the ruling.

The District Court also dismissed respondents' claim that the discrepancy in pay between the male and female guards was attributable in part to intentional sex discrimination. It held as a matter of law that a sex-based wage discrimination claim cannot be brought under Title VII unless it would satisfy the equal work standard of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).5 20 FEP Cases at 791. The court therefore permitted no additional evidence on this claim, and made no findings on whether petitioner county's pay scales for female guards resulted from intentional sex discrimination.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that persons alleging sex discrimination "are not precluded from suing under Title VII to protest . . . discriminatory compensation practices" merely because their jobs were not equal to higher paying jobs held by members of the opposite sex. 602 F.2d 882, 891 (CA9 1979), supplemental opinion on denial of rehearing, 623 F.2d 1303, 1313, 1317 (1980). The court remanded to the District Court with instructions to take evidence on respondents' claim that part of the difference between their rate of pay and that of the male guards is attributable to sex

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discrimination. We granted certiorari 449 U.S. 950 (1980), and now affirm.

We emphasize at the outset the narrowness of the question before us in this case. Respondents' claim is not based on the controversial concept of "comparable worth,"6 under which plaintiffs might claim increased compensation on the basis of a comparison of the intrinsic worth or difficulty of their job with that of other jobs in the same organization or community.7 Rather, respondents seek to prove, by direct evidence, that their wages were depressed because of intentional sex discrimination, consisting of setting the wage scale for female guards, but not for male guards, at a level lower than its own survey of outside markets and the worth of the jobs warranted. The narrow question in this case is whether such a claim is precluded by the last sentence of § 703(h) of Title VII, called the "Bennett Amendment."8

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II

Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer

to discriminate against any individual with respect to his...

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