AFSCME v. Washington
770 F.2d 1401 (9th Cir. 1985)


  • The State of Washington required salaries of state employees to reflect market rates.
  • In 1974, 1976, and 1980 they ran studies to determine whether a wage disparity existed between employees in jobs held predominantly by women and jobs held predominantly by men.
  • Despite finding a wage disparity of about twenty percent (to the disadvantage of women) the compensation plan wasn’t changed to comparable worth until 1983.
  • A class action under Title VII was then brought against the State alleging sex discrimination in compensation.

The comparable worth theory holds that sex-based wage discrimination exists if employees in job classifications occupied primarily by women are paid less than employees in job classifications filled primarily by men, if the jobs are of equal value to the employer, though otherwise dissimilar.

Note: The Equal Pay Act requires equal work. Here jobs weren’t equal, only similar. So Title VII.

The District Court entered judgment in favor of the class, finding violations of both disparate impact and disparate treatment.

Whether comparable worth, as presented in this case, affords AFSCME a basis for recovery under Title VII.

No. Case reversed.

(1) Disparate Impact.

  • Disparate impact analysis is confined to cases that challenge a specific, clearly delineated employment practice applied at a single point in the job selection process.
    • Here, “A compensation system that is responsive to supply and demand and other market forces is not the type of specific, clearly delineated employment policy contemplated by Dothard and Griggs; such a compensation system, the result of a complex of market forces, does not constitute a single practice that suffices to support a claim under disparate impact theory.”

(2) Disparate Treatment.

  • The intent element was lacking:
    • “The State did not create the market disparity and has not been shown to have been motivated by impermissible sex-based considerations in setting salaries.”

Rule: Job evaluation studies and comparable worth statistics alone are insufficient to establish the requisite inference of discriminatory motive critical to the disparate treatment theory.

  • Need independent corroborative evidence of discrimination.