Anatomy of a Wage Discrimination Case in the 8th Circuit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 02, 2012 | Last updated on June 18, 2021

Wage discrimination claims have specific standards. In order to bring a proper claim of wage discrimination, those standards must be met. In a recent Eighth Circuit case, a professor at St. Cloud State University failed to meet these standards when he alleged that race played a factor in his low salary.

Here's a deeper look at the case and why he lost his wage discrimination argument.

The plaintiff was hired at the University and eventually became tenured, in 2006. Nevertheless, he raised the issue that his salary was the lowest among his peers. The plaintiff was a black man of African origin.

The University argued that his salary was based on the policies in place at the time he was hired. He was offered a salary at that time and he didn't negotiate. Salaries, as University policy dictated, went up progressively on a pay grid, year by year.

Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), it is "an unlawful employment practice for an employer ... to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation ... because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

Here's the anatomy of a wage discrimination case, as laid out in the Eighth Circuit's opinion:

First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case by showing that:

1. He is a member of a protected class;

2. He was meeting the University's legitimate job expectations;

3. He suffered an adverse employment action (i.e. lower wages);

4. Similarly situated employees outside the protected class were treated differently.

Once those factors are met, the burden shifts to the University to establish that there is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the pay disparity.

Then, the burden shifts back again to the plaintiff to show that the reason given by the University is a pretext for discrimination.


Here, the Eighth Circuit Court pointed out that even if the plaintiff had laid out a prima facie case, the plaintiff failed to establish that the University's explanation was a pretext for discrimination.

For starters, the plaintiff's salary was within the range set by the University's compensation policy. The plaintiff also failed to negotiate for more money. Finally, even the higher-paid, "similarly situated" colleagues weren't necessarily "similarly situated." They were hired under a different dean with different University policies.

The plaintiff made several other claims in his appeal, including age discrimination. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all arguments and affirmed the District Court's holding.

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