Landmark gender discrimination ruling for OHRP

A Wellington High Court Judge and two members of the Human Rights Review Tribunal have ruled against a fishing company in a landmark case involving gender discrimination.

The case involved two knife operator positions at Talleys’ fish processing plant at Motueka. Both positions involved use of a knife at speed in cold and wet conditions. The practice at the plant was to assign lower paid fish trimmer roles to women, reserving the higher paid fish filleting roles for men.

The High Court judgment this week found the jobs were “substantially similar” and that Talleys had discriminated against the complainant Caitlin Lewis by paying her less money than filleters for her work.

The judgment stated: “The reason she received less money was because she was made a trimmer, and the reason she was made a trimmer was because she was a woman.”

The Assistant Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings Catherine Rodgers who acted for Ms Lewis said,

“This is a landmark case as the legal/threshold question of what ‘substantially similar’ means for the purpose of comparing jobs to determine whether they warrant equal pay has not been tested in the courts before”.

Ms Rodgers said, “The High Court said the words substantially similar should be assessed by looking at the core aspects of jobs rather than differences in detail.  The view of employers about the value of different jobs was not determinative, rather an objective assessment was required”.

The High Court also found in favour of a complaint of victimisation by Ms Lewis’ partner Brett Edwards who was refused a job at Talleys after Ms Lewis complained to the Human Rights Commission.

Talleys has agreed to pay compensation for lost income and injury to feelings to Ms Lewis and Mr Edwards. As part of the settlement Talleys also agreed to undertake human rights training for its managers and to implement an equal employment opportunity policy.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy Mc Gregor said,

“The decision is significant. It means that employers should not be segregating women into work that is substantially similar to work being undertaken by men but with less money. This disadvantages women and perpetuates pay inequity”.

She added: “The decision also upholds the rights of a female complainant to legitimately reject lower pay for work in these circumstances – good on her”.

To read the judgement click here.

For media inquiries contact Carolyne Jurriaans on 09) 375 8616 or Gilbert Wong on 09) 306 2660.

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