A Memphis-area FedEx project manager won an initial victory on Tuesday, Aug. 6, in her lawsuit against FedEx Corp. that accuses the shipping giant of failing to provide equal pay after she took over the job responsibilities of a male colleague.
A FedEx employee won an initial victory in her lawsuit against the company that accuses it of failing to provide equal pay.
(Daily News File/Kyle Kurlick)
Margaret Boaz filed a legal complaint against FedEx in April 2009 alleging the Memphis-based company asked her to take over the job responsibilities of a program management adviser position supporting world revenue operations after a male colleague accepted a buyout.
Boaz says the position remained classified at a lower pay grade level even though she was performing the same duties as her male colleague under the same conditions.
Boaz, now a senior business systems analyst at FedEx, is suing for unpaid and lost wages she would have earned for performing the same duties as her male colleague from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 2008.
She also is asking for attorney’s fees, court costs, pre-and post-judgment interest and damages of at least $250,000. She also has requested that FedEx restore her employment history to reflect all jobs she says the company has awarded her since she was first hired in February 1997.
At the heart of the dispute is whether Boaz’s claims were timely under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Equal Pay Act. While those laws require an employee to file a legal complaint within two years after the date of the alleged violation, FedEx argued a clause in Boaz’s employment agreement limited that time period to six months. Employees have three years to file a legal complaint if the employer willfully violated the FLSA and Equal Pay Act.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed an earlier district court decision and ruled the six-month time limitation in Boaz’s employment agreement operated as a waiver of her rights under the FLSA and Equal Pay Act.
The case will continue to be litigated in district court.
“We believe the substantive claims in this case are without merit, and we will continue to defend the lawsuit,” said Bonnie Kourvelas, a spokeswoman for FedEx.
While FedEx does not dispute it paid Boaz’s male counterpart more than Boaz, the company said it had reclassified his position as a lower paying one after he left – and therefore was not required to pay Boaz the same amount.
The appeals court also threw out that argument and pointed to a FedEx memorandum that suggested the company was not clear on what the male employee’s duties had been.
“There are genuine disputed issues of material fact as to Boaz’s Equal Pay Act claim,” according to the appeals court opinion.
Stephen Biller, a Memphis attorney who represented Boaz in the lawsuit and appeal, said the decision sets an important nationwide precedent for upholding the FLSA and Equal Pay Act – including provisions that require employers to pay non-exempt employees a minimum wage, pay time-and-a-half for overtime, limit the number of hours that can be worked and guarantee equal pay for male and female employees who perform the same jobs.
“Up until this point in time, there have been no federal circuit court decisions addressing the uniqueness of the FLSA and the Equal Pay Act,” Biller said. “There is a lot of public interest in making sure that these statutes are honored.”
Historically, many employers have required employees sign employment agreements that limit the statute of limitations on FLSA and Equal Pay Act claims. In Boaz’s case, FedEx argued that her claims were untimely under her employment agreement because the last alleged illegal activity – the issuance of her June 2008 paycheck – occurred more than six months before she filed suit.
Biller said Boaz waited to file her case until after she informed the FedEx Human Resources Department that she was not receiving equal pay for performing the same duties as her former male colleague. She also tried to resolve her complaint by filing three formal Open Door complaints – an internal FedEx procedure for resolving employee concerns.
“This is an issue that has been kicked around district courts across the country for years,” Biller said. “That’s why the Sixth Circuit’s decision in this case is so important.”
When asked about the appeals court decision, Boaz said she had just two words: “Lilly Ledbetter,” referring to a law named after an Alabama woman who complained she had been paid less than men at the end of a 19-year career as a supervisor at a tire factory.
She lost her case in a Supreme Court ruling, although Congress later passed new laws that relax the statute of limitations and allow workers to sue in this type of case.
The first law signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and extended the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit. The new law says the statute resets with each new paycheck affected by a discriminatory action.