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O'Brien v. Unity Health Plans Insurance Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 7, 2016

LENORE E. O'BRIEN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITY HEALTH PLANS INSURANCE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         Plaintiff Lenore E. O'Brien contends that her former employer, defendant Unity Health Plans Insurance Corporation, failed to pay her a base salary equal to that of her male colleague, Ryan Pelz, who held the same account executive job at Unity. O'Brien brings suit under the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in compensation.

         Unity moves for summary judgment, contending that three reasons other than sex account for the difference in salary between O'Brien and Pelz: (1) O'Brien had less experience in selling group health insurance than Pelz; (2) Unity stopped awarding merit-based salary increases in 2012, so neither O'Brien nor Pelz received any increase in base salary since 2012; and (3) Pelz was a more consistent performer than O'Brien. The first and third defenses present disputed issues of fact, and the second defense fails as a matter of law to account for the pay difference. The court will therefore deny Unity's motion for summary judgment.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Except where noted, the following facts are undisputed.

         O'Brien worked as a Large Group Account Executive at Unity from May 2009 to October 2014. She joined the company around the same time as her male colleague Pelz, who also joined as a Large Group Account Executive. O'Brien's starting salary was $67, 500; Pelz's was $75, 000. O'Brien had tried to negotiate her salary, but she was told that she would need to “outsell” Pelz to earn a higher salary. Dkt. 25, ¶ 21. During her employment at Unity, O'Brien and Pelz were the only Large Group Account Executives, and her base salary never equaled Pelz's. Both O'Brien and Pelz also received commissions, which are not at issue in this case.

         The account executive job at Unity was a sales position. According to the job description produced by Unity, the qualifications, experience, and skills needed for the job were as follows:

• Bachelor's degree preferred and 2-3 years sales/service experience preferably in the health insurance industry; • Prior experience in underwriting and understanding risk desirable;
• Knowledge of business operations;
• Effective communication and written skills, which include presentation and interpersonal skills;
• Understanding of health care industry; and
• Strong knowledge of PCs and related applications.

Dkt. 14-1, at 3.

         The parties dispute the qualifications that O'Brien and Pelz had when they joined Unity. O'Brien had slightly longer experience in the health care industry sales: she had worked at Janssen-Ortho-McNeil for about four years, at Cephalon for about one year, and at MetLife for about two years. Dkt. 14-3, at 3. Unity contends that Pelz, who had slightly shorter experience, nevertheless had more focused experience in selling group health insurance. Dkt. 25, ¶¶ 9, 10. Pelz had worked at MercyCare Health Plans for about six and a half years. Dkt. 14-2, at 4. Both O'Brien and Pelz had bachelor's degrees, and the parties do not point to any other aspect of their backgrounds as being pertinent to this case. The ...


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