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January 6, 2011

Equal pay for equal work

Equal pay for equal work
Bertoldi v State of New York, 275 AD2d 227; Motion to appeal denied, 96 NY2d 706; Motion to appeal on constitutional grounds denied, 95 NY2d 958

Section 115 of the Civil Service Law provides that State employees are entitled to equal pay for equal work, and regular increases in pay in proper proportion to increase of ability, increase of output and increase of equality of work demonstrated in service.

While Section 115 applies only to employees of the State of New York, in Evans v Newman, 71 AD2d 240, the Appellate Division ruled that nonjudicial court employees were to be treated consistent with the provisions of Civil Service Law Article 8, Classification and Compensation of State Employees.

The Appellate Division, First Department’s interpretation of Section 115 proved critical in resolving Bertoldi’s claim that certain trial court clerks were entitled to back salary because their positions had been improperly allocated to a lower salary grade.

The New York State Court Clerks Association and other clerks employed by the State’s Unified Court System complained that appellate court level clerk positions had been allocated to higher salary grades than trial court clerk positions. The Classification Review Board found that trial clerks and appellate clerks were essentially performing the same type of work with equivalent difficulty, and that they were therefore entitled to equal pay.

The trial clerks then sued to recover the salary differential for the approximately 14 years the appellate clerks received a higher salary. The Appellate Division rejected the trial clerks’ theory that Section 115 mandated that they be awarded such retroactive pay. The court said that:

1. The principle of equal pay for equal work need not be applied in all cases under any and all circumstances; and

2. Section 115 enunciates a policy and confers no jurisdiction on a court to enforce such policy.

The court characterized the discrepancy in pay as due to oversight or error and therefore insufficient to establish that [the trial clerks] were not provided equal pay for equal work.

Also rejected was the trial clerks’ contention that they were denied equal protection under the New York State and United States Constitutions as a result of the allocation of the two titles to different salary grades.

The court’s rationale: the decision not to award the trial clerk’s the pay differential had a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest in view of the high costs involved and the limited ability of the court system to absorb such costs within its existing budget.

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