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Washington State Women Win Long Equal-Pay Fight

Times Staff Writer

Ending the nation’s longest battle over comparable worth, a federal district judge in Tacoma on Friday approved a sweeping $482-million settlement that will nearly end pay discrimination against female state employees in Washington state and raise the salaries of jobs most often held by women.

It was a major victory for the comparable worth movement: It represents the largest settlement involving comparable worth litigation, and on April 25 it will begin putting the largest comparable worth pay raise in the nation into the paychecks of 35,000 state workers in jobs that women traditionally fill.

Plaintiff Pleased

“I’m just really tickled,” said Helen Castrilli, a 48-year-old secretary at Western State Hospital near Tacoma and one of nine state employees who had sued the state demanding equal pay with men for jobs of comparable value. “The jobs that women traditionally do are valuable. They are important, not just ‘women’s work.’ They should be paid for what it’s worth.”

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Said Castrilli, whose pay will rise $110 to more than $1,500 a month: “I’d do it all over again.”

“Obviously, we’re pleased,” said Gov. Booth Gardner, a Democrat and longtime supporter of pay equity. “Rather than confrontation in the courts, we negotiated a reasonable compromise that is fair to state employees.”

“The sweetest day in this 12-year fight,” declared Mark Brown, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees--American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which helped sue the state over alleged pay discrimination. “There’s no question that this is a major victory. It’s hard to believe it’s finally happened. But it’s about time.”

Judge Found Discrimination

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Each side had won a battle in the long lawsuit that was brought to a close Friday by U.S. District Judge Jack E. Tanner. He had ruled in 1983 that the state of Washington discriminated in its pay scales between predominantly male and predominantly female jobs. “Discrimination is pervasive and is intentional,” he said.

But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Tanner’s ruling, jeopardizing the nearly $1 billion in additional pay he had ordered. The employees then asked the full Circuit Court to reconsider that decision by a three-judge panel. The possibility of a rehearing, and the promise of the union to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, set the stage for a settlement to end the litigation.

“Everyone wanted to dispose of this,” Brown said.

The settlement, negotiated by the state and the union, was approved by the Legislature. “The state of Washington, the governor, the attorney general, the state Legislature and the negotiators have actually pulled off a miracle,” Tanner said Friday. “I don’t know how you’ve done it.”

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Judge Signs Settlement

He signed his approval of the settlement, obligating the state to carry out the plan. The Legislature had decreed in 1983 that comparable worth be implemented by 1993, but now the Legislature is bound by the court’s order.

Essentially, the settlement calls for an average 4% pay increase, effective April 1, and further increases each July 1 from 1987 through 1992. A senior clerk typist, who now earns a top $1,244 a month, receives a 10% raise this month and 10% in each of the following years. The settlement allows pay to remain below a statistically determined “value line” by a maximum of 5%. “That’s what a settlement is: a compromise,” said Brown. “This gets us most of the way to pay equity.”

The compromise agreement also failed to provide retroactive pay raises, which had been a goal of the lawsuit.

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Brown noted that no male-dominated jobs suffered pay cuts as a result of the rise in female-dominated job pay, and men holding jobs women usually do will also benefit.

Total Cost: $482 Million

The settlement requires the state to make $104 million in new appropriations, Brown said, but as increase is layered on increase, the total cost will be $482 million by 1992.

About 80 current and former state employees had objected to the settlement because of the lack of retroactive pay. But Tanner nonetheless found the settlement “fair, adequate and reasonable.”

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“We would not have a settlement if we insisted on back pay,” Brown said.

“We’re all disappointed,” Castrilli said of the back pay issue, “but we’re all realistic. Everybody is really happy.”

Began in 1974

The national battle for comparable worth here started in 1974 with a state study that found that women’s salaries were about 20% lower than men’s salaries in jobs of comparable skill and value, if not identical in the work done. Subsequent studies came to similar conclusions, but the Legislature twice refused to raise pay levels, prompting the class action pay discrimination suit of 1983.

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Fourteen other states are implementing comparable worth by legislative action, executive action, labor contract negotiations, court settlements or by a combination of those methods.


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