Case Type: Gender Discrimination
Company: SeaSpine Holdings Inc.
Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP and the Desai Law Firm, on behalf of a Human Resources employee and approximately 250 current and former female employees, filed suit for violations of the California Equal Pay Act (“CEPA”) against SeaSpine Holdings Inc. (“SeaSpine”). SeaSpine is a medical device company with approximately 300 employees.
The suit alleges that SeaSpine violates the California Equal Pay Act by paying female employees less than male employees for substantially similar work. Citing examples of comments by SeaSpine’s former director of Human Resources, the Complaint attributes this pay inequity in part to the direct influence of the Company’s male-dominated senior leadership on compensation. The complaint cites several examples of SeaSpine’s Senior Director of Human Resources making sexist remarks, including “call[ing…] the only female member of senior leadership a “hag,” [saying…] that she needed to wear more make-up, and [making…] fun of her attire.” It asserts that the same men responsible for making and permitting such sexist behavior are directly involved in setting pay.
The Complaint also points to SeaSpine’s titling system – comprising “over 200 [titles] for only 300 employees” – as both a cause of and a mask for the discriminatory pay gap. “Employers often rely on disaggregation of substantially similar work into multiple job titles to defend against equal pay claims,” said Danielle Fuschetti of Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP. “However, the California Fair Pay Act makes clear that artificial distinctions employers draw do not excuse paying women less when they are performing substantially similar work.”
The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff Maryanne Johnson, a Human Resources Business Partner, was paid tens of thousands of dollars per year less than a slate of less qualified and lower performing men. According to the allegations, when Ms. Johnson asked for a raise, the head of SeaSpine’s HR Department refused, citing her title. When she responded by asking for a promotion to a higher-paid title, the HR Senior Director again refused, claiming that the promotion would be “a sham.”
Unlike the majority of pay equity suits, which proceed either as class actions under state law or as collective actions under the federal Equal Pay Act, the case against SeaSpine is a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act. This law permits employees to bring suit against employers for Labor Code violations on behalf of themselves and other employees without the formalities of a class action.
“This is what the PAGA is for,” said Aashish Desai, of Desai Law. “It allows an employee to step into the shoes of the state to force her employer to correct a Labor Code violation that impacts her workplace. Ms. Johnson did everything she could to alert SeaSpine to its pay discrimination. When SeaSpine failed to reform, Ms. Johnson came forward to ask the Court to hold SeaSpine accountable.”