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Deborah A. Puchakjian v. Township of Winslow

June 29, 2011

DEBORAH A. PUCHAKJIAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WINSLOW, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff, Deborah A. Puchakjian, alleges Defendant Township of Winslow (hereinafter "Defendant" or "Township") discriminated against her on the basis of gender because it compensated her significantly less than it compensated her male predecessor and male counterparts who performed substantially equal or similar work. Defendant denies these claims and moves for summary judgment [Doc. 28]. In response, Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. 34]. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion and deny Plaintiff's Cross-Motion.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff has alleged a violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206 et seq., as well as several violations of New Jersey state law. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Equal Pay Act claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff commenced her employment with Defendant in 1980. After working for the Township in several different capacities, she was appointed, on February 1, 2002, as the Municipal Clerk, and received a starting salary of $55,000.00.*fn1 Prior to her appointment, Ronald C. Nunnenkamp (hereinafter "Mr. Nunnenkamp") served as the Township's Municipal Clerk, a position he occupied from 1973 until his retirement in 2002. In addition to serving as the Municipal Clerk, in 1986, Mr. Nunnenkamp became the Township's part-time Business Administrator. Consequently, at the time of his retirement, he earned approximately $85,515.00 for his work as Municipal Clerk, and approximately $13,435.00 for serving as the Business Administrator.*fn2

The Township administration is divided into ten departments, and each department is managed by a department head. The Municipal Clerk is one of these several supervisory positions. Three departments are headed by females and the remaining seven by men.*fn3 There is no dispute that all male department heads earn more than Plaintiff and the two other female department heads. Although the responsibilities of each department head differ, Plaintiff views the seven male department heads as comparable to her position, Municipal Clerk.*fn4

On March 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this case alleging counts for discrimination on the basis of unequal pay, failure to pay overtime and retaliation. Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment with respect to Counts I, II and III of her Complaint.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the nonmoving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

B. Equal Pay Act*fn5

The Equal Pay Act (hereinafter "EPA") provides, in pertinent part, that:

No employer . . . shall discriminate . . . between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees . . . at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the 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, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex . . .

29 U.S.C. § 206(d). Claims based upon the EPA "follow a two-step burden-shifting paradigm." Stanziale v. Jargowsky, 200 F.3d 101, 107 (3d Cir. 2000). First, a plaintiff must prove a prima facie case of discrimination. Then, once a prima facie case is established, the defendant has the burden to demonstrate the applicability of one of the statute's four affirmative defenses. Id. If the defendant unequivocally establishes an affirmative defense, the plaintiff must prove that the nondiscriminatory justification was merely a pretext for discrimination. Dubowsky v. Stern, Lavinthal, Norgaard & Daly, 922 F.Supp. 985, 990 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing E.E.O.C. v. State of Del. Dept. of Health and Social Servs., 865 F.2d 1408, 1414 n.8 (3d Cir. 1989).

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must show that employees of opposite genders were paid unequally for "'equal work' - work of substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, under similar working conditions." Stanziale, 200 F.3d at 107; Del. Dept. of Health and Social Servs., 865 F.2d at 1414. This inquiry, however, does not focus on "the name under which the position was classified" or on its job description. Rather, a plaintiff must prove his case through the "actual job content" and what "was actually done." Brobst v. Columbus Servs. Intern., 761 F.2d 148, 155 (3d Cir. 1985). Thus, "[t]he crucial finding on the equal work issue is whether the jobs to be compared have a common core of tasks, i.e., whether a significant portion of the two jobs is identical." Id. at 156; see Shultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., 421 F.2d 259, 265 n. 10 (3d Cir. 1970) (noting that this test does not require that the two jobs be entirely identical, only that the "different tasks which are only incidental and occasional would not justify a wage ...


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