Difference in Jobs Weighs Heavily in Court’s Denial of Equal Pay Act Claim

May 22, 2004

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the University of Minnesota in a case where one of the former assistant coaches of the university’s women’s hockey team sued the school for violations of the Equal Pay Act.
The key finding by the court was that the job responsibilities of the male assistant coach, who was the plaintiff, was significantly different from those of the female assistant coach.
David Horn joined the women’s hockey program as an assistant in its 1997-98 inaugural season. He was one of two assistants hired by Head Coach Laura Halldorson. Both assistants were hired from the same job description. Initially, the only differences were that the female coach was hired as a “first assistant” for an 11-month term at a salary of $33,000. Horn was appointed as the “Second Assistant” for a 10-month term at a salary of $20,000.
While Horn was aware that he was accepting the position of “Second Assistant,” he claimed that initially he did not know that there was a difference in salaries between his position and the other position.
The duties of each assistant were different as well. The “first assistant” served as the external liaison with “SID, public relations, promotions, and community outreach.”
She was also directed “to start and maintain a booster club, represent the team at meetings in Halldorson’s absence, organize all team travel and arrange meals and transportation for home games, and create a database to monitor information about potential recruits,” according to the court.
“In contrast, Horn served as the internal liaison with the athletic trainer, strength and conditioning staff, academic counselor, and equipment manager. He had the additional responsibilities of identifying and evaluating potential recruits and breaking down the videotape of games.”
The first year went smooth enough. Then Horn discovered the original and ongoing difference between his salary and that of the female assistants and complained to the women’s AD. After going public, Horn alleged that Halldorson began “treating him poorly, failed to communicate effectively with him, and undermined his authority in front of players. Halldorson also gave Horn a poor performance evaluation for the 1998-99 season and recommended that his contract not be renewed. Additionally, Halldorson failed to invite Horn to participate in her independently run summer 1999 hockey camp.”
Even so, he was offered a new 12-month contract with another salary increase after the 1998-99 season. Horn rejected the offer, and subsequently sued, claiming wage discrimination, retaliation, and constructive discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2000e-17 (2000), and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (2000).
In its review, the appeals court noted that to establish a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act, Horn must show that the University discriminated on the basis of sex by paying different wages to employees of opposite sexes “for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). The appeals court noted that it would also analyze the Title VII wage discrimination claim based on unequal pay for equal work under the Equal Pay Act framework. See Tenkku v. Normandy Bank, 348 F.3d 737, 741 (8th Cir. 2003).
“Because the two positions required different types and degrees of skill and responsibility, they were not “substantially equal” as required by the Equal Pay Act and Title VII,” wrote the court.
It next turned to the retaliation claim. Horn crossed the first required threshold by showing that he was engaged in a protected activity under Title VII. Next, however, he had to show that he suffered “an adverse employment action on account of his participation in the protected activity. See Buettner v. Arch Coal Sales Co., 216 F.3d 707, 713-14 (8th Cir. 2000), [*10] cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1077, 148 L. Ed. 2d 672, 121 S. Ct. 773 (2001).”
The fact that Horn was offered a new contract with a salary raise seemed to mute the plaintiff’s case. The court also found that the fact that he was not invited to participate in the head coach’s independently run hockey camp was unrelated to the terms or conditions of his job.
Horn’s working conditions may have become somewhat uncomfortable after he filed his complaint, but Horn fails to offer any evidence that the deterioration of his working relationship with Coach Halldorson resulted in any materially significant disadvantage to Horn,” wrote the court.
Finally, the court mustered little validation for the plaintiff’s constructive discharge claim
“Horn argues that Halldorson’s documentation of his alleged performance problems and her unprofessional treatment of him in the presence of players forced him to quit. While we agree that these conditions may have been uncomfortable or difficult for Horn, they did not rise to the level of “intolerable working conditions” as defined under Title VII. Cf. Duncan v. Gen. Motors Corp., 300 F.3d 928, 935-36 (8th Cir. 2002) (holding that offensive and disrespectful working conditions were not so intolerable as to cause a reasonable person to resign), cert. denied, 155 L. Ed. 2d 695, 123 S. Ct. 1789 (2003).
Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s decision. (Horn v. University of Minnesota), No. 03-1862
8th Cir., 4/6/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Judith Kahn Schermer, Minneapolis, MN. (for defendant) Jeffrey George Vagil, Minneapolis, MN and Jennifer Lynn Frisch, University of Minnesota.


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