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Idaho county settles jail nurse sex discrimination lawsuit

Idaho

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BOISE (AP) — County officials in Idaho have agreed to pay $350,000 to four former jail nurses to settle a lawsuit alleging they were discriminated against because they are women.

The women — Tracy Johnson, Toni Krieter, Rene Whitneck and Linda Ellis — were four of the five nurses working at the Canyon County Jail when they sued in U.S. District Court in 2019. The fifth nurse, a man, was paid more than all of them, according to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit against Canyon County and county officials, the women said they were denied equal compensation based on their sex even though they had similar or more experience than their male counterpart and performed essentially the same jobs.

The male nurse had six years of experience and was making more than $31 an hour, according to the court document. The women were all making around $23 and $24 an hour, even though two of them had 15 years of experience and one of them had 20 years of experience.

Another defendant named in the initial lawsuit, VitalCore Health Strategies LLC, was quickly dismissed from the case. The Kansas-based health care company wasn’t awarded the contract to operate the jail’s medical unit until around the same time the women filed the initial case, and so it wasn’t involved in the earlier pay rate decisions.

Canyon County denied the allegations and asked a judge to reject the lawsuit, contending in part that the women failed to follow county policy in reporting discrimination. The county also claimed that the male nurse was paid more only because he was accidentally given the pay differential granted to registered nurses instead of the lower rate granted to licensed practical nurses, even though all five of the workers were licensed practical nurses.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill last year dismissed the women’s claims against Canyon County Commissioners Leslie Van Beek, Tom Dale and Pam White and Sheriff Kieran Donahue.

Winmill said the claims against Canyon County could go forward, however, in part because the male nurse had already spent a few years paid under the normal wage for a licensed practical nurse before suddenly being granted the higher rate given to registered nurses. Winmill also said the county’s records showed no explanation for the change, and noted that both the federal and state Equal Pay Acts effectively bar employers from paying different wages to employees of the opposite sex for generally equal work.

A trial on the claims against Canyon County was set for September. But earlier this month, the women and the county agreed to a settlement to end the case.

The settlement agreement wasn’t filed in the court documents but was obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

In the agreement, Canyon County denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay the women $350,000 to settle the claims, with each side handling its own attorney fees and court costs. The agreement also requires the women and the county to keep the agreement and details about the case mostly confidential, with a few exceptions.

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