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AFSCME v. Washington

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
770 F.2d 1401 (1985)


The State of Washington (defendant) required compensation for state employees to reflect prevailing market rates. In 1974, the state commissioned a study to examine whether there was a wage gap between job classes held predominately by males and job classes held predominately by females. The study concluded that the women’s job classes tended to be paid roughly 20 percent less than men’s job classes for jobs of comparable worth. In 1976, Washington’s governor announced a $7 million budget appropriation to begin eliminating sex-based wage discrimination in state employment. However, a new governor eliminated the appropriation the following year. The state legislature authorized further study of the wage gap and eventually enacted legislation providing for a comparable-worth compensation scheme to be implemented over 10 years. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) (plaintiffs), labor unions that represented 15,500 state workers in jobs held primarily by females, sued the state in federal district court. The unions alleged that the state violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by paying employees in predominately female job classes at lower rates than employees in predominately male job classes. The district court found that the state had violated Title VII under both disparate-impact and disparate-treatment theories of liability and entered judgment for the unions. The state appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)

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