A lawyer and policy analyst for the Oregon Legislature sued the state this week, claiming it has paid her far less than it paid male employees who do similar work.
In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed the Equal Pay Act, a law designed to close the gender wage gap in private businesses across the state. But Cheyenne Ross alleges that wage inequality persists in the office that helped research that law.
Ross is demanding that her employer, the Legislative Policy and Research Office in Marion County Circuit Court, pay her $140,000 in back wages and damages for gender discrimination.
In her July 16 lawsuit, Ross alleges that months of women's complaints forced the Legislative Policy and Research Office improve its pay scale for women, but not enough to enact equal pay for equal work.
Ross says she has worked for the Oregon Legislature since 2009, in a committee that provides non-partisan research to the 90 members of the Oregon House and Senate.
Ross says she has extensive experience as an attorney in both the private and public sectors, and has spent years providing research and policy analysis for legislative committees. But she says the Legislative Policy and Research Office paid her less than it paid men who did the same work, were hired after her, had the same or less experience. In one case, Ross says, the state paid a male analyst who had similar experience but less responsibility 40 percent more than it paid her—a difference she says amounted to more than $30,000 per year.
The state's pay scale was based entirely on her gender, Ross says, instead of being organized around a seniority or merit system.
Ross says she and other employees at the Legislative Policy and Research Office complained for months until they succeeded in forcing the state to address its unfair assignment of salaries. In April, the office began "an urgent reshuffling," according to the lawsuit, changing employee structures and salary ranges. But all that urgency was really just a series of half measures, Ross says. Though the state raised her annual pay by $14,000, she claims the same inequities are in play between how the state pays her and how it pays the newly hired men who work alongside her.
Legislative counsel Dexter Johnson declined to comment on pending litigation.