August 25, 2020

ABQ faces class action suit over disparity in pay for women

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

The City of Albuquerque is facing a class action lawsuit, filed by female employees who say they have been paid less than their male counterparts for years. 

The suit was filed in 2018, but this month a state district judge ruled that the suit can include any classified female employee who worked at the city between 2013 and 2020 and was paid less than males doing the same job. The suit can also include those who no longer work for the city, but did during that time period. 

Alexandra Freedman Smith, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said she and the other plaintiffs’ attorneys are now in the process of notifying other women who might be owed compensation

The impetus of the suit is partly a New Mexico law enacted less than 10 years ago called the Fair Pay for Women Act. 

“The Fair Pay for Women Act was enacted in 2013, so from then on, this has been an issue,” sha said. 

Freedman Smith also said, unlike many other class action lawsuits that offer plaintiffs a cut of a settlement amount, women in this case are owed raises, back pay and possibly a recalculation of retirement pay.  

“The class members are entitled to substantial amounts of money,” she said. “We’re not talking about small amounts, we’re talking about large amounts.”

As part of his decision to allow the suit to become a class action, the judge included evidence that seemed to show a number of men started off at a higher wage than women who had been doing the same job, for longer. 

Freedman Smith said that data shows that the issue is not about job performance or seniority. 

“What we’re talking about is the base pay that people are paid, and they’re just getting a higher base pay from the get go than the women, even women who have been there a lot longer,” Freedman Smith said. 

Freedman Smith also said she has tried to work with the city to address the problem, with no success. 

“We’ve certainly tried to negotiate with them and they just haven’t been willing to do anything about it,” Freedman Smith said.

In a statement through a spokesman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office, the city’s legal department pointed out Keller’s past work advocating for pay equity. 

“While we can’t comment on ongoing litigation, Mayor Keller has been at the forefront of the pay equity fight in New Mexico for years, including leading the first statewide study of pay equity while at the State Auditor’s Office, and he will continue to advance fairness at the city,” the statement read. 

As state auditor, and months before he was elected to be mayor, Keller said his office found pay disparity on a state level

But less than a year after Keller became mayor the plaintiff’s filed their suit against the city. At the time, the plaintiffs were represented by Matt Garcia and Jonathan Guss. Both Garcia and Guss eventually left the case to work for Gov. Lujan Grisham. Garcia is currently the governor’s legal counsel and Guss is the deputy legal counsel.

Freedman Smith said it is unclear how much money the city may owe in back pay, but that it could have been avoided by both the Keller administration as well as the Richard Berry’s administration before that.  

“If they complied when the law was enacted, they could have prevented any issues,” Freedman Smith said. “And even if it had happened later, they still could have saved themselves a lot of money.”