Pay Equity PAGA Suit Alleges Gender Bias At Calif. Co.

Posted October 17th, 2017.

As It Appeared On
Law360

By Braden Campbell

Law360, New York (October 17, 2017, 9:08 PM EDT) — Medical technology company SeaSpine Holdings Corp. is run by an “old boys’ club” that demeans female workers and pays them tens of thousands of dollars less than men, a woman who worked in human resources at the California firm charged in a Private Attorneys General Act suit announced Tuesday.

Maryanne Johnson alleges SeaSpine has breached its “fundamental duty under the California Equal Pay Act” to pay women on par with men for the same work, starting women at lower salaries than men, giving them worse benefits and offering them fewer opportunities for advancement.

“Compensation at SeaSpine is determined by a majority-male senior leadership that places a low value on women and their contributions to the company,” Johnson alleged in a complaint filed Friday. “The company’s male senior leaders … routinely expressed sexist attitudes that belied a lower value for women.”

Johnson, who joined SeaSpine in 2015 after nearly two decades as a human resources professional, alleges the company paid her and other women tens of thousands of dollars less than men performing “substantially similar” work. In her complaint, she says a few men earned more than she did despite being less qualified or poorer performers.

The first, an HR officer identified only as “John Doe One,” earned $40,000 more than Johnson and was paid a bonus more than $7,000 larger than hers despite some of his tasks being handed to her after he failed them, Johnson alleges. Another HR worker, “John Doe Two,” was paid $30,000 more than Johnson in total compensation despite having less experience, she alleges.

Johnson says experiences like hers are “rampant throughout the company.” She notes men “predominantly” hold high-ranking positions that give them more time off, higher bonuses and more stock options than female workers. She also claims to be aware of “countless other women, across many departments” paid less than men “with no valid justification.”

And the sexism at SeaSpine isn’t limited to pay disparities, Johnson alleges. She claims Senior Director of Human Resources Dennis Raposa often referred to female workers as “gossipy” or “bitchy” and called one woman, the only female senior leader at the company, a “hag.”

“This [Raposa] was the person to whom women in this company were supposed to turn when they faced unequal pay,” said Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP’s Danielle Fuschetti, an attorney representing Johnson. “It’s no wonder that the company had difficulty meeting its obligations to pay women equally, given who they charged with that task.”

The complaint also alleges SeaSpine groups its employees, who number about 300, into more than 200 job titles. Employers use this tactic to “mask differences in pay for substantially similar work,” Fuschetti said.

Johnson is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of 250 current and former female workers at SeaSpine. She asks for the women to be paid back wages and damages plus interest, but does not include an estimate for how much the group is owed. Johnson filed her suit under PAGA, an alternative to class action that allows workers to sue employers for violations of most California labor code provisions.

A representative for SeaSpine did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Contact information for Raposa was not immediately available Tuesday.

Johnson is represented by Danielle Fuschetti of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP and Aashish Y. Desai and Adrianne De Castro of the Desai Law Firm PC.

Attorney information for SeaSpine was not available Tuesday.

The case is Maryanne Johnson et al. v. SeaSpine Holdings Corp. in the Superior Court of California for Orange County. The case number was not available Tuesday.

–Editing by Jill Coffey.

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