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Female Lawyers in Pay Case Settle With AG

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State Attorney General Gary King has reached a tentative settlement with two women suing him for alleged gender-based pay inequity in the AG’s Office.

A third woman suing King declined a settlement offer, meaning the case against the AG in U.S. District Court will move forward, at least for now.

Under the pending settlement, Assistant AG Mary Smith and former Assistant AG Melanie Carver would share in a monetary award of $31,500, according to their attorney, Daniel Faber.

Also, as part of the proposed deal, King would agree to seek state funding for a pay-equity study of his office and to adopt a policy to prevent gender-based pay inequity, according to Faber.

“The AG will now be committed to getting rid of any pay inequity that may exist,” Faber said.

King spokesman Phil Sisneros confirmed the terms of the tentative settlement.

The proposed deal isn’t an admission of liability, he said, but an attempt to save taxpayers the cost of further litigation.

The state Risk Management Division, which acts like an insurance company for government, will pay the monetary award.

Faber said the tentative settlement doesn’t include a clause requiring him to keep the terms confidential. Such clauses are common in settlements involving the state.

Former Assistant AG Lesley Lowe declined to settle and would be the only remaining plaintiff in the case that alleges female attorneys in the AG’s Office are paid less than similarly situated male lawyers.

Whether the lawsuit will ever go to trial remains to be seen. King denies the allegations and continues to seek dismissal of the case through court motions asserting government immunity and other defenses.

The issue of women’s pay in the AG’s Office is a long-simmering one. I first wrote about complaints from female attorneys in 1993.

Smith, Carver and Lowe filed their lawsuit in 2010. Two years earlier, they met with King to discuss their concerns and present a report showing they and other women were paid less than several less- experienced male lawyers.

King dismissed the study as flawed and self-serving and denied there was a problem, according to written statements he has made as part of the lawsuit.

You might recall the lawsuit sparked a separate, but related, headline-making legal spat between Faber and King.

In 2010, Faber sent King a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act for documents related to salaries and other employee information.

The AG’s Office refused to turn over the records, because a federal magistrate had put a halt to discovery in the lawsuit. Discovery is the formal way parties in a lawsuit obtain information from each other prior to trial.

Faber sued in state District Court to get the records and won. Judge Beatrice Brickhouse said a halt in discovery doesn’t magically turn public records into confidential information or relieve public officials of their obligation to release the documents when requested.

Faber sought damages and got those, too. The judge ordered the AG’s Office to pay him about $20,000.

The Faber case was embarrassing for King because his office is supposed to be an enforcer of the Inspection of Public Records Act and trains other government agencies on how to comply with the law.

King hasn’t tossed in the towel on the matter. He has filed an appeal with the state Appeals Court, arguing that Brickhouse misinterpreted the law on damages in open-records cases.

King has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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