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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Enter into Consent Decree with Harmony Public Schools Resolving Claims of Retaliation and Pay Discrimination Against Teacher

The Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that they have entered into a consent decree that, if approved by the court, will resolve both agencies’ claims against Harmony Public Schools on behalf of Nicole M. Tuchscherer, a former teacher at Harmony Science Academy-Austin.   The EEOC suit, filed on Oct. 30, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleges that Harmony Public Schools violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) when it paid Tuchscherer less than a male teacher who performed the same or substantially similar work, and when it retaliated against her for opposing such compensation practices. 


The Justice Department’s complaint, which was filed with the consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleges that Harmony Public Schools violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it retaliated against Tuchscherer by failing to renew her teaching contract because she complained of pay discrimination.  The parties are seeking to consolidate the two cases and have asked the U.S. District Court to enter the consent decree resolving the claims of both the Justice Department and the EEOC.


Tuchscherer, who taught art at Harmony Science Academy-Austin for five years, held a State of Texas teaching certification and met the state’s Highly Qualified teacher criteria, earned $40,000 in her fifth year of teaching.  In comparison, an uncertified male art teacher with no previous teaching experience was paid an annual salary of $44,000 by Harmony Public Schools to teach at another Austin-area school.  The EEOC, which has litigation authority against state and local governments pursuant to the EPA, has alleged that in paying Tuchscherer less than a male counterpart who performed the same or substantially similar work, Harmony violated the EPA.


In May 2010, during an annual salary negotiation meeting with the school principal, Tuchscherer asked Harmony to pay her a salary equal to that of male teachers of Turkish descent at the school.  According to the Justice Department’s complaint, when Tuchscherer told Principal Halit Erdogdu that she believed Harmony discriminates against women and Americans in compensation, he became angry with Tuchscherer for raising these issues and called her unprofessional and negative.  Two weeks later, Harmony Public Schools informed Tuchscherer that her teaching contract had not been renewed.  Both the EEOC and the Justice Department allege that this decision was in retaliation for Tuchscherer complaining of unlawful discrimination.  This is the second joint EPA-Title VII litigation effort in Texas resolved by the two federal agencies.


Under the terms of the consent decree, Harmony Public Schools has agreed to pay $125,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages to Tuchscherer.  Harmony Public Schools has also agreed to: include two previously-written reference letters in Tuchscherer’s official personnel file; develop and distribute comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies; train the employees at its five Austin-area schools regarding employee rights and employer obligations under the EPA and Title VII; and post on the premises of its Austin-area schools a notice to employees.


“Both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act protect employees who have the courage to  challenge discriminatory compensation practices from unlawful retaliation by their employers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels.  “We are pleased to have been able to work cooperatively with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to achieve a broad range of injunctive and monetary relief in this important case.”


“The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan has made sex-based wage discrimination a national enforcement priority,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez.  “This case represents our latest litigation effort to combat this problem and reflects our commitment to work collaboratively on equal pay issues with our governmental partners.”


In Fiscal Year 2012, EEOC received over 4,100 charges of gender-based wage discrimination, and obtained over $24 million in relief for victims of gender-based wage discrimination through administrative enforcement efforts and litigation.  The EEOC and Justice Department also continue to serve as key members of the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, a federal government initiative focused on ending the gender pay gap.


The EEOC’s case was litigated by Senior Trial Attorney Eduardo Juarez and Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith Taylor of the EEOC, and the Justice Department’s case was handled by Senior Trial Attorneys Valerie Meyer and Amy Kurren and Deputy Chief Karen Woodard of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section. 


More information about the EEOC is available on its website .  Additional information about the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division is available on its website .

Press Release Number: 
Updated June 2, 2016