On September 22, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it settled a federal sex-based pay discrimination lawsuit with oil company Santmyer Oil operating as SOCI Petroleum, Inc. (“SOCI”) for $50,000.  The EEOC had filed the lawsuit in September 2015 on behalf of Lori Bowersock alleging that the company violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII by paying her less than her male predecessor for performing substantially equal work.

Bowersock was hired in 2006 to perform human resources work.  At the time, a male was functioning as the company’s HR Manager. However, when his employment ended in 2009, Bowersock assumed his position and began performing, allegedly, the same HR management level work as him but was paid less. The lawsuit further alleged that SOCI tolerated use of derogatory sex-based remarks to refer to female employees and devalued their accomplishments and capacity, as compared to male employees.

In addition to the monetary award of $50,000, the parties entered into a consent decree which provides for training for all SOCI employees and supervisory, management and human resources personnel regarding employee rights and employer obligations under the EPA and Title VII. The company will be required to post a notice about the settlement at all of its facilities.  The decree further requires the creation and implementation of a policy prohibiting sex-based discrimination in compensation, record-keeping relating to employee pay and complaints of discrimination, and regular reporting to the EEOC during the decree’s two-year term.

The EEOC’s focus on enforcing equal pay laws and targeting compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on gender is apparent in its pursuit of even this single plaintiff litigation.  Employers should assess whether their compensation practices provide for equal pay for performing substantially equal work and be prepared to address and correct discrepancies.