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Supreme Court Declines Female Law Professor’s Pay Bias Suit

May 17, 2021, 1:41 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday decided against reviewing a Florida A&M University law professor’s lawsuit alleging that a pay inequity study showed she was subjected to sex discrimination, and also retaliated against for previously suing for pay bias.

The pay study was finalized a few weeks after a jury rejected Jennifer Smith’s first lawsuit. The jury credited Smith’s evidence that she was paid less than similar male professors but found she didn’t prove the difference was because of her sex.

Smith claimed in the new suit that the study confirmed her sex really was the cause as it led to her and 11 other professors receiving one-time salary adjustments.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit , however, affirmed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to Florida A&M.

The new suit, under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights, was barred by collateral estoppel, the appeals court said Oct. 8. It was based on alleged discrimination that was considered and rejected by the jury in the first suit, which was presented with all the same pay data the university later used in the study, the court said.

The deans and other personnel who reviewed the study and made the salary adjustments also all testified their intent wasn’t to eliminate sex-based pay bias, it said.

The Eleventh Circuit failed to follow its own precedent and broke with the Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth circuits in reaching its decision, Smith said in urging the justices to take up her case.

The general rule is that a salary adjustment formula derived from specific criteria must be applied evenly across the sexes, she said. That didn’t happen in her case, according to Smith.

The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling “also established a novel, untested ‘outlier’ defense to circumvent pay parity,” and misapplied the collateral estoppel doctrine, she said.

The university didn’t file a brief opposing Supreme Court review.

Smith of Windermere, Fla., represented herself.

The case is Smith v. Fla. A&M Univ. Bd. of Trs., U.S., No. 20-1231, review denied 5/17/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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