A federal judge indicated Tuesday that a lawsuit against Central Bucks School District alleging routinely paying male teachers more than female teachers will become a collective action.
The U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania hearing stems from two previous lawsuits by teachers Dawn Marinello and Rebecca Cartee-Haring who claimed the district routinely ignored past experience of women when deciding a starting pay.
Judge Michael M. Baylson heard from several current and one former teacher in the district during the three-hour hearing before telling the plaintiffs and Central Bucks he intended to approve the collective action request, Cartee-Haring and Marinello said earlier this week.
While not an official order from the court yet, the two lead plaintiffs said Baylson was adamant in his position that other teachers could opt-in to their lawsuits seeking back pay based on their experience.
The petition reviewed in Baylson's Philadelphia courtroom this week was a motion to make the case either a collective or class action suit.
Collective action allows other female teachers in Central Bucks to opt-in to the lawsuit, while a class action would automatically include other female teachers who would need to opt-out of the lawsuit.
“It’s been such a long haul for me that I did not expect to walk out of that courtroom hearing any determination … (Baylson) is determined to move this thing along,” Cartee-Haring said Thursday.
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Cartee-Haring filed her original lawsuit in April 2020, and she would eventually join Marinello’s June 2021 filing alleging systemic violations of the Equal Pay Act in Pennsylvania’s third largest school district.
The court documents pointed to multiple starting pay policies for hiring teachers in Central Bucks over the past 20 years but starting pay has generally depended on past teaching experience and the degree each person holds.
The lawsuit includes examples of 35 different teachers, men and women, over the past two decades.
The 25 male teachers were hired with past experience counted contrary to multiple policies in place, while the nine women, including the two plaintiffs, were typically paid based on either only a portion or none of their teaching experience, the lawsuit alleges.
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The filing points to multiple examples of men starting at higher steps on Central Bucks’ various pay scales while female teachers were told they would have to start at the bottom.
Past and current district officials have said in depositions that “critical need” situations and the labor market can also determine pay, allowing some teachers to start at higher rates on a case-by-case basis.
Marinello said this week that Baylson had repeatedly told Central Bucks to “resolve” the case before a full trial.
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Baylson gave both parties until July 20 to file supplemental briefs and then an official ruling is expected to follow.
Marinello said one of the details yet to be hashed out is how far back the collective action will go.
If the judge goes by the timeframe alleged in the lawsuit, current and former teachers who were hired as far back as 2000 could possibly join in the filing.
The difference in pay between some of the teachers in Marinello’s and Cartee-Haring’s lawsuit are tens of thousands of dollars per year per teacher.
While it’s unclear at this point how much the school district may have to pay if it loses the case, the money owed to women teachers could easily be millions of dollars.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Central Bucks unequal pay likely to be collective action