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Stice v. City of Tulsa

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

July 5, 2018

JACKIE STICE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF TULSA, a Municipal Corporation of the State of Oklahoma, Defendant.



         Now before the Court is Defendant City of Tulsa's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (Dkt. # 32). Defendant City of Tulsa (the City) argues that it did not discriminate against plaintiff because of her gender in terms of her pay, and it asks the Court to enter summary judgment in its favor on plaintiff's claims under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (EPA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII).


         The City employees a wide range of employees, and the City uses a pay scale that groups “positions with similar duties and requiring similar knowledge, skills, and abilities . . . in the same classification.” Dkt. # 32-4, at 3. Each position is assigned a pay group designator and a pay grade and, in some cases, an employee's initial pay grade “may additionally be determined based on hiring considerations and/or external market value.” Id. The City's utilities department hires employees whose job is to “ensure accurate revenue billing . . . and other related assigned duties, ” and these employees are classified as utilities testing analysts, utilities analysts, and senior utilities analysts. Dkt. # 32-1; Dkt. # 32-2; Dkt. # 32-3. Each of these positions requires a bachelor's degree in accounting or business administration, but only the position of utilities analyst required a master's degree or certification as a certified public accountant (CPA). Id. A utilities testing analyst is classified as an administrative or technical (AT) employee at pay grade 36, and the salary range is $47, 213 to $74, 125. Dkt. # 32-1; Dkt. # 32-6. The pay scale for a utilities analyst is classified as AT 40 with a pay range of $50, 445 to $79, 198. Dkt. # 32-2; Dkt. # 32-6. The position of senior utilities analyst is classified as an exempt (EX) position and is classified at pay grade EX 44 with an annual salary of $55, 490 to $93, 785. Dkt. # 32-3; Dkt. # 32-5.

         On September 4, 2003, the City hired Jackie Stice as a customer service representative in the public works/utilities department, and her rate of pay was $10 per hour (or $20, 800 annually). Dkt. # 32-8, at 2. Stice had a high school diploma and some college credits, but she did not have a bachelor's degree. Dkt. # 32-9, at 2-3. She was promoted to the position of utilities credit analyst in July 2004, and her annual salary was increased to $25, 791.12. Dkt. # 32-8, at 3. In August 2006, Stice received a promotion to the position of utilities service team supervisor, and her annual salary was $31, 266. Id. at 4. While she was employed by the City, Stice earned an associates degree and a bachelor's degree. Dkt. # 44-6, at 2-3. In March 2007, Stice was promoted to the position of utilities testing analyst at pay grade AT 36, step C, and her annual pay was increased to $39, 887.52. Dkt. # 32-8, at 14. Stice received several step increases and, by December 2014, she was paid $46, 662.98 at pay grade AT 36, step F. In 2012, Stice had applied for a promotion to utilities analyst, but she was not certified for the position because she did not have a master's degree and she was not a CPA. Dkt. # 32-11.

         The City offered Stice a promotion to senior utilities analyst in December 2014, and she was informed that she would be moved up to pay grade EX 44, step C, for an annual salary of $51, 451.32. Dkt. # 32-13, at 4. At the time, there were two other senior utilities analysts, Tammy Turley and David Ward, and Turley was listed as the higher ranking employee on the finance department utilities administration organizational chart. Dkt. # 32-12. Turley has submitted an affidavit stating that Ward earned approximately $11, 000 more than she earned, even though she had a longer tenure as a senior utilities analyst.[1] Dkt # 44-11, at 1. Stice was concerned that her promotion would cost her the opportunity for a raise at the position of utilities analyst and that this would result in a lower salary at the position of senior utilities analyst than she would have had if she progressed through the AT 40 pay grade. Dkt. # 32-13. City policy states that “the Human Resources Department and the department head or designee will agree upon an appropriate promotional rate for employees that may vary from 5% to 15% above the employee's former rate of pay, ” but the standard increase is typically 10 percent. Dkt. # 32-7, at 3; Dkt. # 32-36. Stice's supervisor, Sean Ratliff, requested that Stice receive a raise greater than 10 percent “due to her skipping a step, experience, talent and pay discrepancies” with other employees in the utilities department. Dkt. # 32-13, at 3. Ratliff's request was approved and Stice was placed at ¶ 44, step D of the pay scale upon her promotion to senior utilities analyst for an annual salary $53, 518.40.[2]Id.

         On November 13, 2015, Stice sent an e-mail to Ratliff alleging that she was being paid less than male employees in her department, even though she believed that she was performing higher quality work, and Stice's complaint was referred to the human resources department. Dkt. # 32-14. Lori Hannon investigated Stice's complaint of unequal pay among male and female employees in the utilities department, and Stice sent Hannon a chart showing the pay of employees who she believed were relevant to her complaint. Dkt. # 32-15. Stice states that she obtained the information using a Freedom of Information Act request and that the information was accurate as of November 30, 2015. Id. at 2. The chart shows that Stice was paid $55, 494 and another senior utilities analyst, Karen Randell-Clark, was paid $57, 619, but Ward was earning $79, 206. Id. at 2-3. The chart also shows the pay of the utilities testing analysts and utilities analysts, and Stice earned less than all but one male employee. Id. Hannon prepared a memorandum and stated that she had reviewed the personnel files of the persons identified in Stice's complaint, and Hannon concluded that any differences in pay were unrelated to gender. Dkt. # 32-16, at 2. Instead, Hannon stated that “the differences in pay were due to employees' overall tenure, tenure within a position, employee promotional movement, employee experience and/or education level.” Id. However, Hannon conducted a salary review of all employees at level 40 and 44 in the finance department, and she recommended that Stice's salary be increased to $68, 142. Dkt. # 32-17, at 2. Hannon found that Stice's salary was “significantly” behind the other current senior utilities analyst, Ward, and that Stice was paid less than utilities analysts at pay grade AT 40. Id.

         Hannon's recommendations were forwarded to the head of the finance department, Mike Kier, and Kier wanted to review all level 40 and 44 employees in the entire finance department before adjusting anyone's salary. Dkt. # 32-18. The human resources department was asked to evaluate whether the utilities testing analyst, utilities analyst, and senior utilities analyst positions were properly classified as separate positions, and each of the employees in those jobs completed a questionnaire about his or her duties and the education needed to complete his or her job. See Dkt. # 32-19; Dkt. # 32-20; Dkt. # 32-21. Stephanie Fenton, a human resources analyst, determined that the three finance positions in the utilities department were properly classified, and the City conducted a salary evaluation to determine if the salaries of each employee at level AT 36, AT 40, and EX 44 fell within one standard deviation of the mean. Dkt. # 32-22. Ken Factor, the City's manager of compensation and policy administration, recommended that the salaries of seven employees be increased as a result of the salary evaluation. Dkt. # 32-23, at 3. Stice's salary was increased to $66, 436 as a result of the salary adjustments recommended by Factor. Id.

         Stice appealed the denial of her pay discrimination complaint to the Civil Service Commission (the Commission), and her complaint was initially heard on July 14, 2016. Dkt. # 32-25. Hannon made a presentation to the Commission and Stice elected to make her presentation at the next meeting in August 2016. Dkt. # 32-25, at 4. Stice made her presentation in support of her complaint on August 11, 2016, and the Commission denied her claim of gender-based pay inequality. Dkt. # 32-26, at 4. Stice filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and she received a right to sue letter. On April 10, 2017, Stice filed this case in Tulsa County District Court alleging claims under the EPA and Title VII, and she seeks over $75, 000 in damages. Dkt. # 2-1, at 7-12. The City removed the case to federal court.


         Summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998 F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'” Id. at 327.

         “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In essence, the inquiry for the Court is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 250. In its review, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Garratt v. Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir. 1998).


         Defendant seeks summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the EPA and Title VII. Defendant argues that there is no evidence that it paid plaintiff less than her male colleagues because of her gender, and any difference in pay can be explained by factors other than sex, such as qualifications and experience. Dkt. # 32, at 20. In response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff argues that defendant does not contest her prima facie case of discrimination under the EPA, and that defendant cannot establish any of the affirmative defenses available under the statute. Plaintiff states that she is not asserting a disparate impact claim under Title VII, but she argues that there is sufficient ...

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