Daniel M. Siegel
Women who work full time are paid about 80 percent of what men make. Siegel took on the pay gap in one of its subtle forms when he represented Aileen Rizo, a math teacher trainer for the Fresno County Office of Education, who brought to the job a master’s
degree and a 13-year teaching history.

Despite her superior experience and seniority, Rizo learned she was making less than junior male colleagues. The county justified the disparity by citing her prior salary history. Siegel sued the county on her behalf on grounds including the federal Equal Pay Act and California’s sex discrimination statutes. The case reached the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, where a three-judge panel held that using prior salary to calculate current wages can be permissible under the Equal Pay Act as a business policy decision.

Siegel wasn’t done. He successfully petitioned for en banc review and won reversal by an 11-judge panel that discarded a 1982 precedent and held that an employee’s prior salary is no defense to wage differential claims. The court sent the case back to Fresno County for trial. Rizo v. Yovino, 16-15372 (9th Cir. April 9, 2018). The named defendant is the Fresno County superintendent
of schools.

“It’s significant,” Siegel said of the decision. “It pushes the envelope on employers’ ability to a prior compensation defense.” State law has since barred the defense and Fresno has changed its policy, but employer groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have said they will petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review. “One way or another, we will try my client’s claims,” Siegel said.

Meanwhile, he’s prepping for a Nov. 2 trial in Alameda County Superior Court over claims by his client, former veteran Oakland Police Department Sgt. James M. “Mike” Gantt, against his former bosses. The claims arose as an offshoot of the notorious Oakland police sex misconduct scandal that led to a nearly $1 million payout to a woman, Celeste Guap, who said officers had sex with her when she was underage. When one officer involved reported the gunshot death of his wife as a suicide, Gantt suspected it was murder,
voiced his concerns, was removed from the investigation and allegedly suffered harassment and retaliation. The officer later committed suicide.

“This is a highly decorated officer who wishes to restore his reputation,” Siegel said. “They hounded him into retirement. In part it was an attempt to divert attention from the Guap scandal. At the moment I have an economist working on the numbers we’ll be asking in damages.” Gantt v. City of Oakland, RG17850153 (Alameda Super. Ct., filed Feb. 21, 2017).

– John Roemer

Daily Journal, September 19, 2018