Allen v. Staples, Inc., 84 Cal. App. 5th 188 (2022)

Joyce Allen worked at Staples as a field sales director (FSD) reporting to area sales vice president Bruce Trahey; FSD Charles R. Narlock also reported to Trahey.  As part of a corporate reorganization in February 2019, Trahey informed Allen and several other FSDs of his decision to eliminate their positions and terminate their employment.  In her lawsuit, Allen alleged violation of the Equal Pay Act (EPA); gender discrimination and sexual harassment under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA); failure to prevent discrimination and harassment under FEHA; retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment and, in the alternative, summary adjudication of each cause of action.  The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of all claims except Allen’s EPA claim, including her claim for punitive damages.

Allen’s EPA claim was based on evidence showing a pay disparity between her starting salary as an FSD and, before that, an area sales manager (ASM) and Narlock’s salary when he started in those positions.  When Allen became an ASM, her base salary was set at $84,999.96; when Narlock became an ASM, his salary was set at $107,698.86 (approximately $22,000 more than Allen’s starting salary in the position).  When Allen was promoted to FSD, her annual salary was set at $86,912.46 (the same salary she was earning as an ASM); Narlock’s base salary as an FSD was $135,000 ($48,087.54 more than Allen’s salary).  Staples argued that the salary differentials between Narlock and Allen are explained by bona fide factors other than gender, namely Narlock’s time with the company and his experience before taking both the ASM and FSD positions.  However, because Staples relied on evidence of its general practices to set salaries based on factors such as seniority and merit, Staples failed to set forth the “specific factors on which Narlock’s base salary, in either position, was premised or the factors on which plaintiff’s base salaries were premised.”  Accordingly, summary adjudication of Allen’s EPA claim had to be reversed.