Equal pay ruling is seen as progress for Fresno County educator

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A court ruling Monday says employers can no longer pay women less than men for the same work, based on differences in their previous salaries.

One Fresno County educator sees it as progress in her six-year fight for gender equality in the workplace.

"I feel ecstatic, overwhelmed with emotion."

Aileen Rizo is talking about the ruling made by an eleven-judge panel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

RELATED: Court rules employers can't pay women less than men based on past wages

In a unanimous decision, pay differences based on prior salaries are now considered discriminatory under the federal Equal Pay Act. The court says allowing pay differences based on previous salaries would perpetuate the wage gap between men and women.

IN DEPTH: Read the entire legal opinion from the court

"A lot of times women are willing to swallow things, willing to work harder and carry the burden when we don't face injustice. I could've gone and gotten another job, but it would never change."

The decision stems from a 2012 lawsuit Rizo filed against the Fresno County Office of Education after learning her male counterpart was making significantly more than her, for the same amount of work.

"I remember asking myself, 'Did I really hear that right?'," said Rizo.

She says her two daughters served as the driving force of her fight.

"Would I tell them that I fought injustice, or that I walked away when I had the chance to fight it? I wanted the story to be that at least I stood up, whatever the outcome."

Superintendent of County Schools Jim Yovino plans to appeal the ruling to Supreme Court of the United States

In a statement issued Monday, the Fresno County Office of Education maintains the policy that was in place at the time Rizo was hired, basing starting salaries on previous pay, was quote, "absolutely gender neutral, objective and effective in attracting qualified applicants and complied with applicable laws" adding the policy was applied to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years.
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