Equal Work Statutes v. Comparable Work Statutes: Does the Distinction Matter Anymore?
This paper chronicles the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), a comparable work statute, and Jancey v. Everett School Committee, the only case both to interpret MEPA and to substantively interpret comparable work as a legal standard. It looks at the history of MEPA, other states comparable work statutes and the federal Equal Pay Act, paying particular attention to the debate between equal pay for equal work statutes and equal pay for comparable work statutes.
After giving the statutory background, the paper looks at the history of the Jancey case. The Jancey case involved a suit between cafeteria workers in the city of Everett and the School Committee. The cafeteria workers argued that the school Committee violated MEPA by paying them less than custodians for "work of like or comparable character." The paper looks at how the case came about, including the role of the collective bargaining process and the motivations for initiating litigation. It also outlines the Superior Court's decision in favor of the plaintiffs and its broad reading of MEPA. It then goes on to discuss the first and second decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court favoring the defendants. The court's narrow reading of the state statute almost certainly was heavily influenced by hostility toward the comparable worth standard demonstrated in public commentary and other federal court decisions. Finally, the paper ends with a discussion of the post-litigation attempt to get the law amended to codify the trial court's result.
The paper concludes that the disuse of MEPA and other comparable work statutes will continue because the same problems that led to its disuse prior to the Jancey decision are only worsened by the court's decision. Jancey left MEPA in one of three scenarios: with no cognizably different claim from FEPA, with a cognizably different claim but with no determination what that is, or a more difficult claim to make than FEPA. In any event, in Massachusetts the quest for equal pay for comparable work is at best at a standstill or at worst is over.
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