Clark County discrimination case was a strong one

When Clark County was sued in a federal wage discrimination lawsuit in April, the case came from U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, not a private law firm looking to score a quick payday with a weak case.

The county’s diversity director, Therese Scupi, had alleged that she faced wage discrimination based on her her gender and race that dated back several years.

She had first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division took the unusual step of picking up the case to pursue on its own.

The U.S. government picks its cases carefully, as it doesn’t have the resources to pursue every potential case, according to a labor law expert.

“It is not usual for the Department of Justice to get involved in cases such as this because there’s limited resources, so I think it must have been rather clear that there was liability,” said Ruben Garcia, a professor at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV.

There’s no shortage of accusations of discrimination. Some 1,175 charges were filed by Nevadans with the EEOC in fiscal year 2013. Typically, the commission will issue a letter giving a worker the right to sue after they file a complaint. But from there, workers who allege discrimination have to hire their own attorney to sue.

“They’re suing on behalf of the United States, so this is enough of a serious issue that they felt they had to bring this kind of enforcement case forward,” Garcia said.

The county quietly signed off on a settlement agreement last week that gives Scupi an $80,636 one-time payment, plus a retroactive salary increase of an unspecified amount for the past three years in exchange for her leaving the county.

County officials repeatedly have declined to comment on the case or provide the full dollar figure of the settlement.

Clark County faces more federal scrutiny in the years ahead for its workforce of roughly 10,000 employees.

Among the settlement’s requirements: The county will have to pass out its Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action plan to employees, train its supervisors and administrators about federal discrimination prohibitions and report all pay discrimination charges filed by management-level employees to the Department of Justice for the next two years.

“The settlement hopefully will go a ways toward dealing with any bad publicity there is versus a long, drawn-out trial and litigation,” Garcia said.

Government attorneys, who are paid the same regardless of whether they win, are more careful when picking the cases they pursue, he said.

“They never take cases unless they have a pretty good idea they’re going to win,” he said. “They’re very risk-averse as opposed to a private attorney. They only take cases they’re pretty sure about.”

Scupi couldn’t be reached for comment.

She had alleged that she was paid less than other administrators with comparable duties.

Scupi was promoted to diversity director in 2002 after starting in 1999 as a human resources analyst.

Her initial starting salary as director was $70,185 in a job with a pay range of $68,265 to $105,788, according to the lawsuit.

By comparison, the lawsuit alleged, three other directors, two white males and one white female, made salaries between $89,980 and $94,993. The highest salary listed in the lawsuit’s comparison went to a white female who earned $94,993.

Scupi filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007. She alleged that after filing the complaint, her responsibilities started diminishing.

She said she was denied access to the county manager’s office and excluded from meetings about equal employment opportunity issues.

The denial of access was significant, the lawsuit states, because personnel records are kept there and access is needed by the county’s Office of Diversity.

Scupi’s most recent base salary is $106,704, according to county data. In 2013, she received $18,335 in other payment types beyond the base salary, which included a $6,000 annual vehicle allowance, county records show. She will leave the county’s payroll in January, when a decree will be issued closing the federal case.

In general, government agencies do a better job of fairly paying employees, as information about salary ranges is readily available, said Katie Donovan, a Boston-based salary and career negotiation consultant who focuses on equal pay issues.

“Typically, it’s easier to be an informed consumer when you’re going for a job within a government agency,” she said.

Clark County’s human resources website, like others, lists salary ranges with job postings.

Donovan’s advice — for female job-seekers in Clark County and elsewhere — is to be informed about the job’s worth without being self-centered.

“It’s not about the value of you,” she said. “The language … a lot of people talk about is, ‘What’s my value?’ It’s the job’s market value. It’s like a house. It changes annually.”

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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