King County/Equal Pay for Equal Work Case

Roberts v King County

Plaintiffs Arlene Roberts and Abu Sanusi brought a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and an alleged class of non-represented employees (both FLSA-exempt and nonexempt). The County argued the "equal pay for equal work" ordinance merely states an "aspiration" and thus was not enforceable by affected employees. The Superior Court dismissed the case.

The Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, reinstating the action in August 2001. The County asked the Supreme Court of Washington to review the case. Plaintiffs opposed review and the Supreme Court declined review in January, 2002. After extensive discovery and negotiations, King County settled the case.

The County agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the Roberts class action with the Duncan class action involving delayed pay classification.

Class Member Definition

Roberts subclass members are or were King County non-represented employees in the Executive Branch who worked more than 35 hours per week but received a lower hourly rate of pay than non-represented employees in the same job classification who worked 35 hours per week. A list of Roberts subclass members is attached to the Settlement Agreement. If your name is not in the list and you believe you are a Roberts subclass member, please see the Agreement, ¶26(j).

Duncan subclass members are or were King County non-represented employees in the Executive Branch who should have been or were “Class Comped” in the Classification and Compensation Study, but who did not receive pay at the new classification back to January 1, 1998.

Summary of the Settlement

On December 4, 2003, the Honorable Richard A. Jones held a hearing on approval of the settlement. Judge Jones ruled the settlement is fair and reasonable and it is approved.

The County agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the Roberts and Duncan class actions. The Roberts/Duncan settlement was achieved after substantial litigation starting in 1997 and many conferences with the County. Class counsel believe the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable and a significant value for the plaintiffs and the class.

The Court consolidated the two related lawsuits and certified the class for purposes of settlement. The Court has approved the settlement and the attorney fee award. The settlement is complex. This is a general summary only and does not address all the details and terms in the settlement agreement. To review all the terms, you may pick up a copy of the Agreement at the law office of Bendich, Stobaugh & Strong, P.C., 701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 6550, Seattle, WA 98104.

Expenses Paid By King County

The County will also pay all costs for notices to the class, all costs of settlement administration, and the employer share of mandatory obligations, such as FICA and PERS. The value of these costs and expenses is approximately $4.5 million.

Future Relief

There is also future relief for currently employed class members. Within a job classification, there are 10 steps with a corresponding increase of approximately 2.5% of pay for each step. Normally, an employee moves to the next step each year. At step 5 through step 10, step increases also consider merit. Had Roberts class members received the pay differential, approximately 14.29% more pay each year, they would have been at a different pay step in the Class Comp Study. The Agreement provides currently employed Roberts class members will be placed at their correct pay step, up to step 10. Similarly, had the Duncan reclassification process not taken so long, some Duncan class members would have been at a higher pay step than they are now. The Agreement provides that currently employed Duncan class members at steps 1, 2, 3, or 4 will be moved up one step. The value of future relief is estimated at $1 million.

Compensation to Class Members

The settlement creates two subfunds. The Roberts Fund is allocated $6 million and the Duncan Fund $8 million, both after deducting fees and expenses. If there are funds remaining to the Roberts subclass — after payments to eligible class members — the balance will go to the Duncan subclass, and vice versa.

Each subfund is distributed based on formulas. The Roberts Fund is paid out first to currently employed class members (employees who worked at least one hour in January 2003 and who had not terminated employment in 2002 or earlier, or who were not otherwise ineligible in 2002 or earlier), at 14.29% of their pay (or their actual pay differential) back to April 1, 1994, or their later date of hire. The balance is next distributed to Roberts class members who terminated employment in 2002, again at their pay differential of approximately 14.29% of their pay. If a balance remains, the balance is distributed to Roberts employees who terminated employment in 2001 and so on until the fund is depleted.

Like Roberts, currently employed Duncan class members will be paid first, applying, for the most part, the same percentage increase to their pay that they received as a result of “Class Comp” to their actual pay back to January 1, 1998, or their later date of hire. Thus, someone who received a 3% “Class Comp” raise on January 1, 2003, will also receive 3% of pay back to January 1, 1998, if employed since that date. Duncan class members who terminated employment prior to 2003, or were otherwise ineligible in 2002, or were not “Class Comped,” and a few current employee class members who have not been “Class Comped” (they did not receive a new classification and/or a new rate of pay associated with the new classification) will receive the average percentage increase as a result of “Class Comp” that current employees received, 2.41% of their pay, back to January 1, 1998, or their later date of hire.

As in Roberts, the distribution is paid first to currently employed Duncan class members, then Duncan class members who terminated employment in 2002 or were otherwise ineligible in 2002, then those who terminated employment in 2001 or were otherwise ineligible in 2001, etc., until the Duncan subfund is depleted.

Exclusions and Excluded Periods

In order to prevent a double recovery, Duncan class members who already received certain pay increases prior to 2003, defined as “Increased Pay” in the Agreement ¶(46) will not receive an award for certain periods they received Increased Pay ¶(47(d)-(f)). Certain management employees who are highly paid and can generally negotiate their salaries will not receive any award for those periods where they earn over $92,289 per year in 2003 (and the equivalent in earlier years). Some class members will not receive any monetary award, including, but not limited to (a) employees who worked nine months or less, (b) non-benefitted employees, (c)  Duncan class members who terminated employment as of October 9, 1999 or earlier (due to the statute of limitations), and (d) Duncan class members who were “Class Comped” but received no increase in pay as a result of Class Comp. There are other exclusions and other periods that are excluded. (See Agreement, ¶¶26, 27, 43, 44, 47.)


Settlement Checks Mailed September 2005. Checks must be cashed within six (6) months from the date the check is mailed. If you received your check but have not cashed it, please cash it immediately. If you never received a check, please contact King County immediately.

Claims Administrator

Changes of address or other contact information must be submitted in writing to King County electronically to:

Roberts/Duncan Claims Office
800 5th Avenue, #101-124, Seattle, WA 98104-3102

Related Press