The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected an employer’s argument under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) that a pay differential was justified because a female employee and her male counterparts did not have the same jobs.Riser v. QEP Energy

Riser was hired as an Administrative Services Representative, and her job included managing a fleet of several hundred vehicles and performing various facilities-management duties. As the years progressed, Riser assumed more responsibilities, including managing construction projects in various states. In 2011, Riser received an annual salary of $47,382. That same year, QEP hired a male employee for a newly created position it called “Fleet Administrator,” and paid him an annual salary of $62,500 in that role. Riser trained this employee and QEP used the fleet administration responsibilities set forth in Riser’s job description to develop the job description for this new position. After the Fleet Administrator was hired, Riser focused on QEP’s facilities and constructions projects. She was soon terminated for unsatisfactory performance. Thereafter, QEP hired a male employee into another new position called “Facilities Manager” and paid him $66,000.

Riser filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that QEP violated the EPA because it paid her less than the two male employees who were recently hired. On summary judgment, QEP argued that under the EPA Riser could not establish that her job was “substantially equal” to the two male employees’ jobs. In reversing the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of QEP, the Tenth Circuit reasoned she performed all of the fleet administrator tasks that were eventually passed to the newly hired Fleet Administrator. Moreover, she performed all of the responsibilities assigned to the newly hired Facilities Manager.

The Court rejected QEP’s affirmative defense that the pay differential was attributable to a bona-fide, gender neutral pay classification system. The Court stated that QEP’s pay grade was not based on the duties Riser was actuallyperforming, but rather on the duties administrative assistants generally perform. Thus, given the fact that she performed virtually the same duties as the two recently hired male employees, the Court held that a reasonable jury could “certainly question how 31 and 39 percent pay gaps could be explained by legitimate business related differences in work responsibilities for the particular position at issue.”

This case is a reminder that employers should periodically analyze jobs within their organizations and survey salaries paid in the market place to ensure that positions are properly classified and compensated.