Purdue wins judgment on wage discrimination claims however allegations of FMLA, FSLA violations can proceed

Purdue University and a group of its employees have secured victory over a dismissed employee’s wage discrimination lawsuit. However, the former employee’s claims for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Family and Medical Leave Act by her Purdue supervisor can continue.

Presiding Judge Jon DeGuilio of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana on Wednesday in Belinda McCarty against The Trustees of Purdue University delivered a partial summary judgment for the university and its staff, as well as a partial summary judgment for plaintiff former employee Mary Kathryn Green -Smith, Rick Rodriguez, Julie Kercher-Updike, Gerry McCartney, Gary Desai and Dan Rhine, 4:19-cv-43.

Plaintiff Belinda McCarty filed the complaint in April 2019, approximately three months after she was fired from her position as software licensing administrator for West Lafayette School. McCarty had worked for Purdue since 2006 and had received two performance enhancement plans during that time prior to being fired.

From 2012 to 2019, the disputed years, McCarty only received a performance-based raise. In each of the other years she was ranked in the bottom 10% of IT customer service reps – a ranking that, according to the university, did not result in a performance-related pay rise.

McCarty claimed, however, that she was paid less than a male counterpart, Jim Myers, for sex discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act, Indiana Minimum Wage Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. She also argued that in violation of the FLSA, she was not granted overtime pay and that she received retaliation for taking the FMLA vacation.

DeGuilio stated that Purdue had immunity from McCarty’s 11th Amendment immunity from all claims except her right to retaliation for taking family care leave under the FMLA. However, the individual defendants are not entitled to immunity.

Regarding McCarty’s FMLA claims, the chief judge ruled that a summary judgment was inadequate for the defendants because “a reasonable jury could determine that their superiors’ comments on their various FMLA vacations may constitute evidence of retaliation.”

McCarty accepted FMLA several times during her tenure at Purdue, including after the birth of her children and to care for her sick and dying father. During that time, the court wrote, she was forced to work while she was still applying for FMLA leave.

In addition, her superiors made comments like “Wow, are you going to go another day?” or: “Did you really have to?” In addition, she was given notice on the day she returned from her FMLA vacation.

“A jury could certainly determine on this record that Ms. McCarty failed to improve her performance after several warnings and that failure would have resulted in her dismissal regardless of other inappropriate reasons,” wrote DeGuilio. “However, the Court cannot conclude that a jury should make these conclusions in a way that would warrant a summary judgment, particularly because retaliation need only be a motivating factor in a negative action, not the only factor or even the main factor in obtaining a right to retribution support.”

As with the FLSA claims against the individual defendants, the presiding judge declined the summary judgment for both parties based on “multiple factual disputes” over whether McCarty was a released employee.

“For example, the parties argue whether decisions about software packages and distributions were standardized and required the approval of a manager or whether Ms. McCarty made independent decisions about contracts with customers or instead followed the instructions of the manager,” he wrote. “It is also controversial whether Ms. McCarty decided whether a particular customer is entitled to access to a product or software.

“In interpreting all reasonable conclusions in favor of both parties,” wrote DeGuilio, “the file before the court contains differing statements about Ms. McCarty’s relative freedom from oversight, whether she exercised discretion, and if so, the importance of those decisions and hence, “there is a real problem of material facts …”

But all of McCarty’s wage gap-related claims – alleged violations of the Equal Pay Act, Indiana Minimum Wage Act, and Title VII – have been settled in favor of the defendants. Among other things, the court found that Myers started working at Purdue nine years before McCarty.

“Whether or not Purdue has formal seniority, it is clear that Mr. Myers’ salary was influenced by his successful experience in the nine years prior to Ms. McCarty’s appointment. The court finds that this is a reasonable difference, not based on gender, and does not believe that a reasonable jury could conclude otherwise. “

McCarty will be represented by Indianapolis attorney Jason Ramsland, while the defendants were represented by attorneys at Stuart & Branigin LLP in Lafayette. Indiana Lawyer has requested comments from both parties.

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