The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Denton County for paying a former female employee less than her male colleague.

On behalf of Dr. Martha Storrie, the federal agency filed the discrimination lawsuit on Aug. 31, saying Storrie was paid at least $34,000 less than her male counterpart for performing the same work.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 says it is illegal to pay different wages to women and men for equal work performed in the same workplace.

The complaint states that Storrie, who had been working for the Denton County Health Department since October 2008, was being paid tens of thousands of dollars less than Dr. Marty Buchanan at his starting salary when he was hired in August 2015.

It also says that other male physicians in the same position of primary care clinician at the department were compensated more than Storrie.

Storrie said she could not comment on the case. She said she has been practicing medicine for 27 years.

According to court documents, Storrie brought the issue of pay discrepancy to the attention of the director of public health, who refused to remedy or raise Storrie’s lower wages. The director has the sole discretion to recommend the starting salary for a primary care clinician, the claim said.

Primary care clinicians for the Denton County Health Department are tasked with providing medical treatment and healthcare for county residents in county-run clinics, such as that in the Denton County jail, the court document states.

“Dr. Storrie performed work for Denton County in a position requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions and at the same Denton County facilities as the male Primary Care Clinicians hired by Denton County,” the document said under its statement of equal pay act claims.

The EEOC sent out a press release the day the lawsuit was filed.

“In the health care field, just as in any other job market, the best medicine for employers ailing from poor pay practices is to remedy gender-based pay disparities that have been premised on outdated sex stereotypes,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino. “With over 1,000 [Equal Pay Act] charges received in 2016, we have our work cut out for us in promoting equal economic opportunity in the workplace.”

Defense attorney Robert J. Davis, who is representing Denton County in the lawsuit, said the county does not comment on pending litigation and intends to vigorously defend against the allegations.  

Davis filed a motion on Sept. 6 for a protective order, or “gag” order, and a request for an expedited hearing in response to the press release the EEOC sent out and posted to its website.

The motion states the “ongoing publicity tactics” the EEOC practices are unethical:

Given the public’s likely perception and/or misunderstanding of the role of the EEOC,

sweeping statements that the law has been violated and/or EEOC’s counsel’s personal opinion that Dr. Storrie was not properly paid could create the incorrect assumption by the public [i.e. potential jurors] that there has already been some type final governmental determination as to the lawfulness of Denton County’s conduct. There has not.

Davis wrote in the motion that the press release fails to mention the statute on which the allegations are posed allows differences in pay to be based on factors such as seniority, merit or a factor other than sex. He asked the judge to have the EEOC remove the release from its website so as not to taint the jury pool.

It is the employer’s burden to prove that the permitted factors for pay differentials, known as affirmative defenses, apply, according to the EEOC’s fact sheet on equal pay and compensation discrimination.

Davis said in the motion that this is not the first time the EEOC has released slanted media following charges and that the agency has been admonished for it by Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven in EEOC v. Laroy Thomas, Inc.

Davis will be filing a response to the EEOC’s charges before the end of the month, he said over the phone. The deadline to respond is Sept. 29.  

After asking for equal pay, Storrie was removed from the Denton County health offices by one vote based on a comment made to a patient regarding her health, said Attorney Bill Trantham, who represented her in the hearing.

He said this is only the second time in his law career he’s ever seen the EEOC represent a plaintiff directly and file its own complaint on Storrie’s behalf.

“That means it is incredibly strong in showing discrimination based on her being a female. Denton County needs to get busy and end this discrimination now,” Trantham said in a Facebook post.

Storrie currently practices in Lewisville and is affiliated with Medical City Lewisville and Medical City McKinney.