Law School Case Brief
Corning Glass Works v. Brennan - 417 U.S. 188, 94 S. Ct. 2223 (1974)
In order to make out a case under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C.S. § 206, the Secretary of Labor must show that an employer pays 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. The Secretary of Labor has the burden of proof on this issue.
Corning Glass Works, which operates plants both in New York and in Pennsylvania, paid its night inspectors, who were all male, significantly higher wages than its day inspectors, who were all female and performed the same tasks. The employer continued this practice after the effective date (June 11, 1964) of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (29 USCS 206(d)(1)), which prohibits sex discrimination by an employer in the payment of wages for equal work. Beginning in June 1966, the employer started to open up jobs on the night shift to women. Previously separate male and female seniority lists were consolidated and women became eligible to exercise their seniority, on the same basis as men, to bid for the higher paid night inspection jobs as vacancies occurred. On January 20, 1969, a new collective bargaining agreement went into effect, establishing a new "job evaluation" system for setting wage rates; the agreement abolished for the future the separate base wages for day and night shift inspectors and imposed a uniform base wage for inspectors exceeding the wage rate for the night shift previously in effect. All inspectors hired after January 20, 1969, were to receive the same base wage, whatever their sex or shift. The collective bargaining agreement further provided for a higher "red circle" rate for employees hired prior to the date of the agreement, when working as inspectors on the night shift; this "red circle" rate served essentially to perpetuate the differential in base wages between day and night inspectors. The Secretary of Labor instituted two actions, one in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (No. 73-29) and one in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (No. 73-695), to enjoin the employer from violating the Act by the practices stated above and to collect back wages allegedly due female employees because of past violations.
Did the employer pay 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?
The United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals in No. 73-29 and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals in No. 73-695, remanding the case to that court. In an opinion by Marshall, J., expressing the view of five members of the court, it was held that (1) the employer violated the Act by paying a lower base wage to female day shift inspectors than to male night shift inspectors; and (2) the employer did not cure its violations of the Act by permitting, in 1966, women to work as night shift inspectors nor by equalizing, in 1969, day and night inspector wage rates but establishing higher "red circle" rates for existing employees working on the night shift. The Court held that the inspection work at issue, whether performed during the day or at night, was equal work as defined by the Act and that a 1969 collective bargaining agreement between the company and its employees providing for equal base pay for day and night inspectors hired after that date did not remedy the violation.
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