The Bennett Amendment is a provision in §703(h) of Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 incorporating specific terms of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to more clearly define under what circumstances an employer may provide different compensation to employees of different sex. The Amendment has invited debate on the extent to which it impacts the question of "comparable worth", including whether or not lawsuits may be brought when jobs are different, but judged by contrast on an importance continuum to jobs of higher pay. In 1981 the Supreme Court of the United States determined with respect to County of Washington v. Gunther that the Bennett Amendment explicitly incorporated only limited defenses to unequal pay and did not otherwise bar suits based on a comparison of payment for different jobs. Nevertheless, it has continued to be used to bar comparable worth suits in lower courts.
While Title VII forbids employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, the Bennett Amendment (proposed as Public Law 88-38 on June 10, 1963) provides exception, specifically noting that:
It shall not be an unlawful employment practice under this subchapter for any employer to differentiate upon the basis of sex in determining the amount of the wages or compensation paid or to be paid to employees of such employer if such differentiation is authorized by the provisions of section 206(d) of title 29 [section 6(d) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended].
§206(d) of the Equal Pay Act allows differentiation of payment on (1) seniority, (2) merit, (3) productivity, or (4) any other factor than sex.
According to 2004's Employee Benefits Law, the Amendment was proposed by Wallace F. Bennett, a Republican Senator from Utah as a "'technical' amendment" to bring the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act into accord.
Comparable worth debate
Arthur Gutman in 1999's EEO Law and Personnel Practices describes comparable worth as a system of ranking jobs on "a continuum of value to the company", allowing, for example, that while one job may be worth $10 an hour, a job of slightly less complexity might be worth $8. Evaluating this continuum provides an "internal worth", indicative of the value of the job to a particular company, which may be compared to an "external worth", or the value of a job to the wider market.
The impact of the Bennett Amendment on the comparable worth debate has been a point of contention. In 1989, Ellen Frankel Paul summarized the matter in Equity and Gender: The Comparable Worth Debate, by posing two questions: "Does the Bennett Amendment plug into Title VII all of the Equal Pay Act's standards, thus importing the "equal work" standard of the latter? Or does it merely inject the Equal Pay Act's four exceptions...?" Paul notes that the question is pivotal to resolving the Comparable Worth Debate, for if it is interpreted to incorporate the entirety of the Equal Pay Act's standards, then it becomes impossible to prove a "comparable worth" suit, defining two different jobs in a scale of importance and determining by it how to judge equal pay.
County of Washington vs. Gunther
The Supreme Court of the United States first examined the question of the impact of the Bennett Amendment in the 1981 case County of Washington v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161. The case originated in 1974 in Oregon when a group of four female county prison guards sued the County of Washington for unequal wages, alleging that their pay was less than that of male guards for no reason other than sexual discrimination. The district court disagreed, finding that male guards were responsible for overseeing more prisoners and also that female guards spent some of their time in clerical tasks, but also found as a matter of law that a sex-based wage discrimination claim cannot be brought under Title VII unless it satisfies the equal work standard of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
While not reviewing the first finding, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held with respect to the latter that "claims for sex-based wage discrimination can also be brought under Title VII even though no member of the opposite sex holds an equal but higher paying job, provided that the challenged wage rate is not exempted under the Equal Pay Act's affirmative defenses as to wage differentials attributable to seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or any other factor other than sex." It interpreted the intention of the Amendment as incorporating "into Title VII only the affirmative defenses of the Equal Pay Act, not its prohibitory language requiring equal pay for equal work." With this finding, by a narrow margin, the US Supreme Court concurred. Justice Brennan, speaking for the Court, indicated that the Bennett Amendment did not preclude comparison of differences in pay, but only those attributable to those four specific factors.
Gunther, however, did not prove as definitive on the question as first believed, both because it did not address all factors under consideration and because it was a narrow decision. The Court did not determine how jobs might be properly compared, and one of the primary opponents of the majority opinion was the soon-to-be Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist. Rehnquist wrote explicitly against the comparable worth theory in his dissent (speaking as well for Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. and Potter Stewart), while Brennan countered that the majority opinion was not explicitly or implicitly supporting or refuting the comparable worth doctrine. Gutman underscored that "the Gunther ruling did not validate comparable worth theory; it merely permitted plaintiffs to try to make the prima facie claim under Title VII rules" and added that "[s]o far plaintiffs have been thwarted in every case."
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- Sacher, Steven J.; James I. Singer, Terese M. Connerton, Jane Kheel Stanley, American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law. Employee Benefits Committee, Evan J. Spelfogel, Ronald Dean, Barbara S. Gutmann, Susan Katz Hoffman, Jeffrey Lewis, Howard Shapiro (2004). Employee Benefits Law. BNA Books. p. 1116. ISBN 1-57018-128-4.
- Gutman, 85.
- Paul, 67.
- Paul, 68.
- McCann, 36
- McCann, 37.
- Lee, Yong S. (1992). Public Personnel Administration and Constitutional Values. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 103. ISBN 0-89930-610-1. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- Gutman, 187.
- Brennan Jr., William J. for the United States Supreme Court. (1981-06-08) County of Washington v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161 (1981) U.S. Supreme Court. Hosted at openjurist.org. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- Gutman, Arthur (1999). EEO Law and Personnel Practices. SAGE. ISBN 0-7619-1895-7.
- McCann, Michael W. (1994). Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-55572-0.
- Paul, Ellen Frankel (1989). Equity and Gender: The Comparable Worth Debt. Hoepli Editore. ISBN 0-88738-204-5.