Pay equity only necessary for top job rates: Ontario court

Male dominated job classes can be paid more to start and move through pay grades more quickly as long as they are paid the same in the end
||Last Updated: 07/31/2012

Pay inequity between male- and female-dominated classes of jobs is acceptable if they get paid the same when they reach the top of their pay scale, the Ontario Divisional Court has ruled.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) appealed decisions by the Pay Euity Tribunal regarding with two Ontario employers: Lakeridge Health Corporation, a network of hospitals, and the York Region District School Board. At Lakeridge hospitals, the mostly-male service workers could move more quickly through pay levels than the female-dominated clerical workers. Service workers could reach the top of their pay scale in nine months, while it took clerical workers at least two years, which could result in the clerical workers making up to $4,000 less in their first two years of employment.

At the York school board, clerical employees — which were mostly female — had a four-step wage grid that took three years to go through. Custodial employees — mostly male — had a three-step grid that could see them reach the top in one year.

However, the tribunal and, more recently, the Divisional Court, found pay equity could be considered to be in effect if the highest rate of pay between two classes was the same, regardless of differences between the lower rates of the job classes. The court also found if there are two comparable male job classes with different pay rates, a comparable female class only needs to be adjusted to the rate of the lower male class for there to be pay equity.

“(Pay equity is) achieved by adjusting job rates — that is, by making adjustments to the highest rate of compensation in a job class,” said the court.

“It really is an outrageous decision,” Mary Cornish, CUPE’s lawyer in the case, told the National Post. “Women didn’t make the same at the start of the grid or as they moved along the grid. The only place they did make the same was at the end of the grid and the court said that was OK.”

CUPE national president Paul Moist echoed Cornish’s sentiments.

“It’s an intolerable situation of women being blocked from getting to the top rate of pay many more years than men for work that is viewed as being similar,” Moist told the Toronto Star.

However, in its ruling, the court hinted that the Pay Equity Act could be exposed to a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for not doing enough to eliminate such “under-inclusiveness” present at the two employers.

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