County of Washington v. Gunther

PETITIONER: County of Washington
LOCATION: Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club

DOCKET NO.: 80-429
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 452 US 161 (1981)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1981

Barry Sullivan - on behalf of the United States et al. as amici curiae
Carol A. Hewitt - on behalf of the Respondents
Lawrence R. Derr - on behalf of the Petitioners
Mister Taggart - on behalf of the united states, et al., as amici curiae

Facts of the case


Media for County of Washington v. Gunther

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1981 in County of Washington v. Gunther

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in County of Washington v. Gunther.

Mr. Derr, you may proceed when you are ready.

Lawrence R. Derr:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case presents the question of whether sex-based wage discrimination claims are subject to a different standard of proof when such claims are asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than the equal pay for equal work standard of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

The respondents are former employees of the petitioner, Washington County.

The respondents were jail matrons who guarded female prisoners in the county jail and had other clerical duties.

The male prisoners were guarded by deputy sheriffs and later by corrections officers.

The respondents filed this case in the federal district court alleging that they had received compensation lower than that received by their male counterparts doing substantially the same work.

They also raised a claim that their jobs had been terminated in retaliation for making that equal pay claim and that they had been refused the right to be rehired, also in retaliation.

The trial court found that the jobs were substantially dissimilar on the facts, and therefore denied the equal pay claim.

It also found that there was no retaliatory reaction, that there were good business reasons for the fact that the jobs were terminated.

And those had to do with providing additional space in the jail to respond to an overcrowding problem, an ACLU suit.

In a post-trial brief after the facts were in, the respondents raised for the first time the claim that even if the jobs were not equal, that the great differential in pay between the comparison jobs could only be at least partially explained by sex discrimination.

The only evidence pointed to were the very pay scales which caused the source of the comparison.

The trial court held on the basis of the laws that existed prior to this case that since the Equal Pay Act standards applied and since the jobs were substantially dissimilar, that is, not substantially equal, that the judge had no authority to override the wage rates set by the employer and the union in this case.

The respondents appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and raised one other point of fact found in the record, and that was a statement by the sheriff of the county that at one point in time he felt that the matrons, the respondents here, should have been paid more than they were being paid.

No other evidence was asserted as supporting this comparison of jobs as opposed... unequal jobs as opposed to equal jobs.

One other assertion was made for the first time on appeal to the 9th Circuit by the respondents, and that is that they were prevented during the trial from introducing additional information to support their comparable job claim.

However, they have never pointed to what that evidence was nor anyplace in the record where they were denied that right.

And, in fact, it's hard to understand how that could be the case since the claim was first raised in post-trial briefing, not in the complaint or the pre-trial order.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Derr, one thing that bothers me about this case is the extent to which we are talking about kind of an abstract distinction which may not boil down to too much when it comes to actual application.

What in your view is the difference between equal work and comparable work?

Lawrence R. Derr:

Comparable work is simply the tip of the iceberg of an open-ended interpretation of Title VII in the area of sex discrimination.

The concept of equal work is one that is defined by the statute and through case refinements, that's a concept that's understood.

But if that limitation that started in the Equal Pay Act is not applied as well to Title VII, then any theory is available to a plaintiff or a claimant to attempt to show that there was discrimination based on sex.

Comparable work is one of those theories and there are many versions and explanations of it.

In essence, it amounts to comparing the value of different jobs to the employer, then comparing the wages, and drawing a deduction from a difference between value and wages that sex discrimination is the motivation, and I think by the explanation--

Potter Stewart:

In that area you could... I'm sure your sister will disagree with this, or the extent of this, but in the extreme logic of it you could compare the wage rights of truck drivers with that of secretaries, for example.

Lawrence R. Derr:

--Very definitely.

There's absolutely no limitation upon the comparisons that can be drawn, only in the ability of the analysis to make any rational connection.