Nixon v. State

Decision Date01 September 1992
Docket NumberNo. 1615,1615
Citation96 Md.App. 485,625 A.2d 404
Parties, 62 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 344, 83 Ed. Law Rep. 224, 1 Wage & Hour Cas.2d (BNA) 808 Lois T. NIXON v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Glen M. Fallin, Westminster, for appellant.

Susan C.M. Somerville, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. and Andrew M. MacDonald, Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Argued before BISHOP, GARRITY and CATHELL, JJ.


Appellant, Lois T. Nixon, appeals from an order of the Circuit Court for Howard County in favor of the State of Maryland, appellee. Appellant presents four questions which we rephrase as follows:

I. Did the trial court err in finding that appellant and her "comparator" did not perform work of comparable character or comparable skill?

II. Did the trial court correctly find that the State met its burden in establishing that the salary differentials were based upon a merit system which does not discriminate on the basis of sex?

III. Did the trial court err in finding that all claims arising more than three years prior to the filing of the instant case were barred by the statute of limitations contained in Annotated Code of Maryland, section 3-307(c) of the Labor and Employment article? 1

IV. If this case is remanded, should the appellee be equitably estopped from attempting to introduce evidence concerning the setting of pertinent salaries in 1973?


Appellant began her employment as an instructor with Coppin State College (hereinafter "Coppin") in 1971. She testified that she was told by Coppin that she would not be promoted until she received a doctorate degree. Appellant further testified that prior to her enrollment in the doctoral program of Union Graduate School (hereinafter "Union"), she had received written assurance from Dr. Calvin Burnett at Coppin that her degree from Union would be "accepted." Union was unaccredited at the time appellant enrolled and remained unaccredited until 1985. In 1977, appellant received a doctorate degree from Union and was promoted to assistant professor. 2 Since the time that Dr. Burnett assured appellant in 1971 that her degree from Union would be "accepted" at Coppin, the Board of Trustees changed their policy regarding promotions and degrees from institutions that were unaccredited and refused to accept degrees from unaccredited institutions for promotional purposes in respect to associate or full professorships.

Colonel T. Hawkins was hired by Coppin as an assistant professor in 1973. At that time he did not have a doctorate degree, but he had completed two years in a doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh, an accredited institution. He was also working on a doctoral dissertation and had taught classes for one year at Bowie State College. Dr. Hawkins was promoted to associate professor in 1983 upon the receipt of his doctorate degree.

Appellant filed a request for promotion to associate professor in 1982, which was denied because Union remained unaccredited. Coppin, however, did promote appellant to associate professor upon Union's accreditation in 1985.

Appellant filed the present suit alleging a violation of Maryland's Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (Maryland Act) 3 on September 8, 1987. The Maryland Act generally prohibits gender-based wage discrimination between employees of different sexes. It contains exceptions relating to seniority, shifts, merit systems, ability, and work classifications. Generally, appellant alleged discrimination based on her perception of the higher salary of Dr. Hawkins, alleged by her to be doing work of comparable character. On June 27, 1992, the court granted, in part, the State's motion for summary judgment and dismissed appellant's claims arising out of conduct by the State that did not occur within three years prior to the filing of her complaint. On July 8, 1992, a court trial was held on the remaining claims. During the trial, the trial court prevented appellant from introducing evidence regarding the hiring and promotion requirements to assistant professor for the 1973 year. The court entered judgment in favor of appellee, opining:

I don't find that Dr. Hawkins and the Plaintiff performed work of comparable character.... [B]ut even assuming for the sake of argument, that they do ... perform comparable work requiring comparable skills, clearly I find by a preponderance, that the State has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the salary differential is based on a provision of the statute, one of the exceptions of the statute. That it's clearly based, evaluation or variation in salary is based upon a merit system.... [T]hat doesn't discriminate on the basis of sex.

We affirm the trial court. We shall supply further facts as necessary.


Appellant argues that the trial court erred in finding that she and Dr. Hawkins did not perform work of comparable character or comparable skill. We hold that the evidence presented in this case clearly supports the judgment of the trial court.

The standard of review for court trials is well-established. Maryland Rule 8-131(c) provides that in an action tried without a jury, an appellate court "will not set aside the judgment of the trial court on the evidence unless clearly erroneous, and will give due regard to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses." See also Reisterstown Plaza Assocs. v. General Nutrition Ctr., Inc., 89 Md.App. 232, 240, 597 A.2d 1049 (1991). "Unless the factual findings of the trial court are clearly erroneous, an appellate court may not arrive at different factual conclusions. If there is any competent material evidence to support the factual findings of the trial court, those findings cannot be held to be clearly erroneous." Fantasy Valley Resort, Inc. v. Gaylord Fuel Corp., 92 Md.App. 267, 275, 607 A.2d 584 (1992) (citation omitted).

Appellant contends in her brief that:

What is significantly different about the Maryland Act, if it is analyzed according to the federal model, is that a prima facie case is made out by a showing of "work of comparable character or work on the same operations, business or type of work in the same establishment", while the prima facie case under the federal EPA requires "equal skill, effort, and responsibility". The Maryland Act, by contrast, appears to allow the defendant employer to defeat the claim by showing that the subject work requires "different skill or ability, different duties or services performed regularly".

Appellant argues that she has made a prima facie showing of work of comparable character as required by the Maryland Equal Pay Act. Md.Code Ann., Lab. & Emp. § 3-304 (1991). She further contends that appellee has failed to rebut her prima facie showing. We hold that appellant failed to establish a prima facie case under the Maryland Act. We explain.

The Maryland Equal Pay Act provides as follows:

(a) In general.--An employer may not discriminate between employees in any occupation by paying a wage to employees of 1 sex at a rate less than the rate paid to employees of the opposite sex if both employees work in the same establishment and perform work of comparable character or work on the same operation, in the same business, or of the same type.

(b) Effect of requirement.--Subsection (a) of this section does not prohibit a variation in a wage that is based on:

(1) a seniority system that does not discriminate on the basis of sex;

(2) a merit increase system that does not discriminate on the basis of sex;

(3) jobs that require different abilities or skills;

(4) jobs that require the regular performance of different duties or services; or (5) work that is performed on different shifts or at different times of day.

Lab. & Emp. § 3-304(a) and (b).

Appellant relies extensively on the federal case interpretations as persuasive authority for her contentions as to the alleged violations of the Maryland Act. The standard for establishing a prima facie case under the Federal Equal Pay Act is well-settled:

[T]he plaintiff is required to prove at trial "that an employer pays different wages to employees of opposite sex 'for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.' "

Schwartz v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 954 F.2d 620, 623 (11th Cir.1991) (quoting Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 195, 94 S.Ct. 2223, 2228, 41 L.Ed.2d 1 (1974), quoting 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1)).

"Once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the difference in pay is justified by one of the four exceptions to the Equal Pay Act: (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit pay system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by a quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any factor other than sex. If the employer establishes that the disparity is justified by one of these exceptions then the plaintiff must come forward with affirmative evidence that indicates that the proffered reason for the disparity is actually a pretext for sex discrimination."

Schwartz, 954 F.2d at 623 (quoting Brock v. Georgia Southwestern College, 765 F.2d 1026, 1036 (11th Cir.1985)) (citation omitted).

In Schwartz, a male professor who taught courses in the College of Education at Florida State University filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. section 2000e et seq., and the Federal Equal Pay Act. He alleged that female professors in the same department were paid a higher salary than comparable male professors because the male professors were not permitted to participate in a certain academic study. The Court held that the District Court's finding that the salary disparity resulted from factors other than sex was not clearly erroneous. 954 F.2d at 623. The discretionary raises were based...

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