A former California television news anchor is filing an employment lawsuit against a TV station she once worked for, alleging that she made significantly less than her male co-anchor – violating labor laws.
According to a report in The Daily Mail, Sandra Maas has filed a lawsuit in San Diego alleging that KUSI paid her $90,000 a year, less than her male co-anchor Allen Denton, with whom she worked for years.
Maas told CBS 8 San Diego that while it is “humiliating” for her to share what happened to her, she hopes to make a difference for other women in the workplace with this lawsuit.
Employment Lawsuit: Allegations of Unequal Pay
Maas originally filed the lawsuit in 2019, a week after leaving KUSI. Lawyers for Maas allege that the station violated California’s Equal Pay Act, which prohibits pay inequality among employees who do “substantially similar work.”
Maas is suing the McKinnon Broadcasting Company, KUSI’s operator, for unspecified damages for past and future wages, past and future mental and emotional distress, and punitive damages.
When filing, Maas asked for $10 million in damages. Maas’s lawsuit alleges that the television station broke California labor and pay fairness laws by paying her a lot less than Denton for doing the same job. Denton and Maas were co-anchors of the KUSI nightly news for nearly a decade until she left the station in 2019.
However, her former employer responded in court documents that Maas “was not a good team member or a dedicated journalist.”
In court documents, the station’s lawyers claimed that Maas worked far fewer hours than the male anchors, often arriving on set barely in time to tape news breaks and go on air live to present the nightly news, causing problems for other employees who produced the show. KUSI’s lawyers did concede that Maas’s on-air performance was good.
Understanding the Equal Pay Act
For decades, the California Equal Pay Act has prohibited employers in the state from paying their employees less for equal work based on gender. However, in 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the Equal Pay Act in a number of ways and signaled California’s commitment to achieving real gender pay equity.
Here are some of the most significant changes that were made to the Equal Pay Act:
- Requiring equal pay for employees who perform “substantially similar work” when viewed “as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.”
- Eliminating the requirement that the employees being compared work at the same establishment.
- Making it more difficult for employers to justify pay inequities through the “bona fide factor other than sex” defense.
- Explicitly stating that any retaliation against employers who seek to enforce the law is unlawful, making it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing or inquiring about their co-workers’ wages.
- Extending the number of years employers must maintain wage and other employment-related records from two to three years.
If these rules are violated, the victim may be able to seek compensation through an employment lawsuit.
What Does “Substantially Similar Work” Mean?
“Substantially similar work refers to work that is mostly similar in skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. “Skill” refers to one’s experience, ability, education, and training that is needed to do the job.
“Effort” refers to the amount of physical and/or mental exertion required to perform the job. “Responsibility” means the degree of accountability required to do the job. Working conditions refer to the physical environment.
How Long Do You Have to File a Claim?
Under the Equal Pay Act, an employee must file a claim within two years from the violation date. If the violation is willful, the employee has three years to file. Each paycheck that reflects unequal pay is considered a violation to calculate the filing deadline.
If you file a retaliation claim with the Labor Commissioner, the deadline is within one year of the retaliatory act.
Alternatively, an employee may file a civil action for retaliation in court within one year of the retaliation. You do not have to file a retaliation claim with the Labor Commissioner before filing an action in court.
You may have a claim under California’s Equal Pay Act if:
- You have an employer/employee relationship with your employer.
- The difference in your pay is based on your gender.
- The work you and your co-worker performed was completed in similar working conditions.
- You performed equal work requiring the same amount of skill, effort, and responsibility as the worker receiving higher pay.
- You were paid less than the employee of the opposite gender who performed the same type of work.
As the plaintiff, employees must prove all of the above elements to succeed in an Equal Pay Act claim or employment lawsuit. This is why it is imperative to gather all evidence and documentation to support your claim and get an experienced California employment lawyer.