A woman who researches and develops policy for the Oregon Legislature filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, accusing the state of paying her less than male co-workers with similar qualifications and job duties.
Cheyenne Ross, an analyst for the Legislative Policy and Research Office, already has a lawsuit pending in Marion County Circuit Court, which Willamette Week reported in July.
In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, lawyer Loren Collins stated that Ross has worked for the office since 2009 and has experience as a lawyer in both the public and private sectors.
“Despite this extensive experience, plaintiff has been paid less than her male co-workers who have the same or less experience, and for the same or comparable work performed,” Collins wrote. “One male analyst with comparable skills, experience and responsibility was paid 40 percent more than Plaintiff – a difference of over $30,000 per year.”
At the time, Ross was being paid approximately $87,000 a year, Collins said in an interview Wednesday.
“The cases are about fundamental fairness and pay equity between men and women which have been on the books, both federal and state, for well over 20 years.”
Lawmakers passed a law last year aimed at further chipping away at pay disparities that persist despite longstanding laws against compensating employees differently based on their gender.
Employees in the office raised concerns in April and May about “unfair salary disparities,” Ross says in her lawsuit, and the state gave Ross a $14,000 increase as part of an “urgent reshuffling” of the office.
“Despite those changes, a significant pay inequity continues to exist between plaintiff and her male co-workers,” according to the court filing. Ross contends the state owes her back pay, plus an unspecified amount of damages and attorney fees.
Collins said Ross believes her male colleagues who are being paid more for comparable work have not done anything wrong and that “she has great respect for them.”
“However, the pay inequity is the fault of the administration and the leadership of the Legislature who have failed to follow the pay equity laws,” Collins said.
Dexter Johnson, a lawyer for the Legislature, said he would not comment on pending litigation.
Meanwhile, the state faces an ongoing lawsuit by former legislative lawyer Gail Stevens, who alleges she was improperly terminated from her job. Stevens, whose case is currently scheduled to go to trial next year, accuses Johnson, the head legislative lawyer, of terminating her employment in retaliation for Stevens “reporting mismanagement, opposing and reporting unlawful practices, discussing wages and opposing pay inequity,” Willamette Week reported last year.
In a motion to dismiss part of Stevens’ lawsuit last year, Oregon Department of Justice lawyer Tracy Ickes White wrote that Stevens’ complaints to others working at the Capitol were not protected under the First Amendment because the “speech concerned her own job conditions, not a matter of public concern.”
The state provided 10 examples of concerns Stevens discussed with Johnson and other employees at the Capitol.
“As part of her job duties, which included providing employment advice, plaintiff reported to Mr. Johnson mismanagement and legal and ethical violations she identified in personnel matters at the Capitol,” Ickes White wrote.