An engineer will receive tens of thousands of dollars from the Prince George’s County government to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit in which she argued that her male colleagues, one of whom had less experience, were paid more than she was to do equal work.
The county must pay Joanna Smith $139,633 in lost wages and increase her salary by $24,723 a year to ensure that her pay is equivalent to that of her fellow civil engineers at the county’s Department of the Environment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus ruled that the county government violated the 1963 Equal Pay Act by paying Smith less than her similarly qualified male counterparts. The county agreed to a three-year consent decree that includes hiring a consultant to review the agency’s salary scales and policies for federal compliance and provide training to all managers. Prince George’s will also have to report to the EEOC on how it handles future complaints.
“We filed this lawsuit because Prince George’s County not only refused Ms. Smith’s efforts to negotiate a higher salary commensurate with her experience and education, it then continually paid her less than it paid her male colleagues even though she did equal, and in some cases, more complex and superior work,” EEOC attorney Maria Salacuse said in a statement.
In a statement, the county government said the court ruling "exposed outdated policies and practices in our merit system that are a legacy from decades of our government’s history.”
Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III is “committed” to repairing their compensation system and updating their policies because “All workers deserve equal pay for their work no matter their personal attributes ...” he said through a spokesperson.
Prince George's County executive Rushern L. Baker III is "committed" to repairing their compensation system and updating their policies because "All workers deserve equal pay for their work no matter their personal attributes..." he said through a spokesperson.
Smith was hired in March 2012 as an engineer in the Department of the Environment’s stormwater management division. At the time, she had a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and more than five years’ experience developing and designing flood control projects.
The county offered Smith an entry-level salary of about $61,000 a year. Smith requested $88,000, but the county told her she could not negotiate, according to court documents. The upper salary limit for the position exceeded $118,000.
Smith’s lawyers pointed to three instances in which Smith’s male colleagues were able to negotiate higher starting salaries with the county government. In two cases, the government initially offered the men salaries above the base amount Smith received.
Two weeks after Smith was hired, the Department of the Environment hired a male engineer for a comparable position and met his salary request, which was $10,000 above what Smith had been offered. A week after that, another male engineer doing the same work also received more money for the same job as Smith.
A few months after that, court documents show, the county agency hired an engineer who had less experience than Smith and lacked a professional license. Though the man’s salary request was nearly equal to Smith’s, the department offered him several thousand more dollars and promoted him — with a raise — within a year.
The wage gap pushed Smith to file a complaint.
“The EEOC will take vigorous action against any employers, whether public or private, who engage in such blatant pay discrimination,” EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement.