First-Ever Ruling on Maine’s Equal Pay Law

By Ramona du Houx

February 18, 2022

In 1949, Maine passed its first equal pay law. Yesterday, Dr. Clare E. Mundell won her Maine Equal Pay Law claim against Acadia Hospital, marking the first decision in any court interpreting this seventy-plus year-old law.

In a landmark decision that will likely transform pay practices across Maine, Judge Lance E. Walker of the United States District Court for the District of Maine ruled that Acadia Hospital violated the Maine Equal Pay Act (MEPL) by paying Dr. Mundell less than her male colleagues for comparable work, and that Acadia now owes Dr. Mundell triple lost wage damages.

As Judge Walker explained in the attached decision: “The evil redressed by MEPL is decidedly the impact of unequal pay for comparable work, regardless of the employer’s motivation.”

And further, Judge Walker found that Acadia’s argument that it was unaware of the pay disparity until Dr. Mundell brought it to their attention “only highlights why the Legislature chose to authorize treble damages… Absent the threat of heightened liability, employers would be incentivized not to investigate their compensation practices for MEPL compliance, knowing that they could simply pay back the difference if they were ever caught.”

Dr. Mundell filed this lawsuit after discovering that she had been paid an hourly rate only about half as much as her male counterparts for her work as a psychologist for Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

“This important case for equal rights for women exists only because I had an impromptu discussion with a male coworker in our shared office space about the hourly rates we were being paid. Unfair differences in pay for women are widespread across industries and workplaces. We all have the right to talk about what we are paid with our coworkers. I encourage all workers to share this information freely with one another. In this context, knowledge truly is power,” said Dr. Mundell.

Dr. Mundell was paid $50 per hour, while the men in her department were paid $90 and $95 per hour. In the lawsuit, Northern Light Acadia Hospital admitted that Dr. Mundell and her male counterparts performed comparable work as related to skill, effort and responsibility, and that none of the law’s affirmative defenses applied.

“Maine law gives employees the right to disclose their own wages, and to ask about and disclose their coworkers’ wages, for the purpose of enforcing equal pay. As Dr. Mundell’s case shows, this freedom to talk about wages is key to equalizing pay. You can’t fix what you don’t know about,” said Attorney Wicks explained.

Attorneys Valerie Z. Wicks and Carol J. Garvan of the law firm Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, LLP represent Dr. Mundell in this lawsuit. Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, LLP is the largest workers’ rights law firm in northern New England and has offices in Portland and Augusta.

“The law in Maine is clear: men and women who perform comparable work must be paid equally. This is a landmark decision that gives real teeth to Maine’s strong equal pay protections. This decision puts employers on notice that they must proactively monitor and eradicate pay disparities based on gender, or risk having to pay triple damage penalties and interest,” said Attorney Garvan.