VLS Professor and Students Win Significant Equal Pay Case
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 17, 2013
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt.—A Vermont Law School faculty member and her students learned last week that they were victorious in a federal court case that found a Vermont woman had been discriminated against because of her gender and is entitled to compensation under Vermont’s Equal Pay Act.
Professor Cheryl Hanna had worked with three students this year (Daniel Belzil ‘13, Katrina Brannan ’13, and Nora Mahoney ’13) on an amicus brief on behalf of the Vermont Commission on Women and many other local and national organizations committed to pay equity.
According to Professor Hanna, “the decision holds, among other things, that just because a male is able to negotiate a higher salary than a female, that does not justify a pay differential, especially given that women are often at a disadvantage in salary negotiations. Nor does paying a man more as inducement to move his wife and children justify a pay differential. The court made clear that there must be a bona fide business reason for the pay differential, even if there was no intent to discriminate,” she said.
The case, Dreves v. Hudson Group, involved a suit brought by Wendie Dreves of Grand Isle, Vermont, who sued the Hudson Group Inc. in 2011 after being fired and replaced by a younger man. The suit caused the U.S. District Court in Burlington to interpret, for the first time, the Vermont Equal Pay Act of 2002. According to one of the students who worked on the case, Katrina Brannan ’13, the victory underscored the experience she gained from working on the case. “Working with Professor Hanna, I learned how a lawyer can be someone who makes a real difference in the world. It was hard work, but I will never forget this moment.”
“We met each week to discuss our progress and next assignments. One of my fellow students even collaborated remotely from her semester-in-practice in Ohio. As a student who previously studied alone and worked independently, the collaboration was exciting and taught me how rewarding it is to work with other people. Professor Hanna's energy and dedication were truly inspiring and I will carry that with me throughout my career,” said Brannan.
Cary Brown, Vermont Commission on Women's (VCW) Executive Director, also commented on the role of VLS students in the case: "The depth and breadth of research the students compiled for this brief was astonishing,” she said,” and the final result was elegant and powerful. She added that "one of the most important ways that women have made gains in the U.S. has been through the court system. Cases like this one set precedent, motivate employers to do the right thing, and help other women in similar circumstances to access justice. We know that these VLS students will go on to fight those battles for social justice, remembering the victory of this one."
“This is what makes Vermont Law School so special,” said Professor Hanna. “In addition to learning how to do the highest quality of legal work, the students learned that such work can make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people. Together we not only submitted a successful amicus brief, but also worked to improve Vermont's Equal Pay law in the legislature. Few of us get to make such an impact in the course of our careers, let alone in our third year of law school."
Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, has the top-ranked environmental law program and one of the top-ranked clinical training programs in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor curriculum that emphasizes public service; two Master’s Degrees (Master of Environmental Law and Policy, and Master of Energy Regulation and Law), and three post-JD degrees—LLM in American Legal Studies (for foreign-trained lawyers), LLM in Energy Law, and LLM in Environmental Law. The school features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center, the South Royalton Legal Clinic, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. For more information, visit www.vermontlaw.edu.