FRESNO—In April 2018, Aileen Rizo won an important court battle in defense of equal pay for equal work. It all started in 2012 when Rizo, a math consultant at the Fresno County Office of Education, learned that a newly hired male coworker was five rungs higher on the pay scale than she was. Rizo had climbed that ladder for four years working with the county and yet was still getting paid far less for the exact same position and title. It wasn’t a case of someone being more qualified; Rizo had more education and seniority. However, one employee was a man and one was a woman. Rizo knew this treatment was unjust.
The Ninth Circuit Court agreed. Rizo’s employer tried to hide behind the defense that it was just playing salaries relative to what employees had earned at their previous jobs and that this form of discrimination was legal because it is based on a factor other than sex. The Ninth Circuit Court decided that even if it is not explicitly worded that way, that practice still discriminates against women. It still boiled down to unequal pay for equal work. Unequal status is easily perpetuated when employers can simply pass the blame for low pay back to previous jobs. Discriminating on past pay institutionalizes the wage gap. Rizo won her verdict, and a valuable precedent was set.
Now this victory is at risk. Jim Yovino, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, has appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. To justify the appeal, Yovino has focused on one aspect of the Ninth Circuit trial. There, one of the 11 judges presiding over the case died after the arguments had been made and his vote on the case had been recorded before the verdict was officially gaveled in. This was unusual enough to enable Yovino to push forward this case after Rizo’s victory.
This appeal matters both to Fresno County and the entire country. In addition to the incredible importance of pay equity to all workers, the appeal is costly to Fresno taxpayers. Supreme Court cases are long and labor intensive. The county is paying to try and give employers the ability to discriminate against the people that they hire. Yovino, an elected official as Fresno County superintendent, is trying to ensure that employers everywhere can pay two people of the exact same ability doing the exact same work two different rates. This is an issue beyond political parties. It is simply a matter of fundamental rights.
“Aileen Rizo’s victory for equity pay is a positive development for everyone in our society—especially women,” says Michael D. Evans, chair of the Fresno County Democratic Party. “In challenging the court’s decision, Yovino’s priorities are severely misplaced. We should support pay equity and use our tax dollars to better our communities, not line the pockets of greedy attorneys looking to screw our neighbors out of a fair wage.”
Rizo is now running against Republican Jim Patterson for State Assembly. She has not given up fighting against unjust treatment. It is uncertain when she will be in front of the Supreme Court to state her case, but she will be on the ballot Nov. 6 pledging to fight for the rest of us.
The Fresno County Democratic Party can be reached at 559-495-0606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.