CASE STUDY 14.1 Renstrom V. Nash Finch Co. United States

CASE STUDY 14.1 Renstrom V. Nash Finch Co. United States

District Court For The District Of Minnesota, 112 Fep 125 (2011).

[Jeannette Renstrom was the head grocery buyer at wholesale food distributor Nash Finch Co. at its St. Cloud, Minnesota, distribution center. She sued her employer under the Equal Pay Act because Nash Finch paid her less than two male employees who performed equal work—Bill Crosier, the head grocery buyer for the Omaha distribution center, and Dale Ebensteiner, the head grocery buyer for the Fargo and Minot distribution centers. Nash Finch seeks summary judgment.]


To make out a prima facie case under the EPA, the plaintiff must show that her employer paid her less than a male employee for equal work in jobs that required equal skill, effort, and responsibility and that were performed under similar working conditions. If the plaintiff makes out a prima facie case, the employer must show that the pay differential was based on a fac- tor other than sex (or on one of the other affirmative defenses enumerated in § 206(d)(1)).

As noted, Renstrom alleges that Crosier (the head grocery buyer for the Omaha distribution center) and Ebensteiner (the head grocery buyer for both the Fargo and Minot distribution centers) performed equal work for higher pay. There is no dispute that Crosier and Ebensteiner were paid more than Renstrom. …

1. “Establishment”

The EPA was enacted in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)… . The term “establishment” appears throughout the FLSA—and, long before the EPA amended the FLSA, the term “establishment” had repeatedly been held to refer to “a distinct physical place of business” and not to an entire business or enterprise. A.H. Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 496 (1945)… . Thus, when Congress enacted the EPA—and expressly limited application of the EPA to employees working at the same “establishment”—Congress was not writing on a blank slate. Instead, Congress was borrowing a term from elsewhere in the FLSA—a term that had acquired a well-settled meaning. There is absolutely no evidence that, in using the term “establishment,” Congress intended the term to have a broader meaning in the EPA than it had in the rest of the FLSA. Reflecting this fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) adopted the geographical meaning of the term “estab- lishment” for purposes of the EPA:


Although not expressly defined in the FLSA, the term “establishment” had acquired a well settled meaning by the time of enactment of the Equal Pay Act. It refers to a distinct physical place of business rather than to an entire business or “enterprise” which may include several separate places of business. Accord- ingly, each physically separate place of business is ordinarily considered a separate establishment.

..The Court therefore holds that, for purposes of the EPA, each of Nash Finch’s distribution centers is a separate “establishment.” Because Renstrom did not work at the same establishment as the two comparators that she has identified (Crosier and Ebenstei- ner), her claim under the EPA must be dismissed.

2. Prima Facie Case

Renstrom’s EPA claim must be dismissed for the additional reason that she has not demonstrated that she performed work equal to that of Crosier and Ebensteiner. As explained above, to establish a prima facie case, Renstrom must identify male employees who were paid more for equal work in jobs that required equal skill, effort, and responsibility and that were performed under similar working conditions. Jobs do not have to be identical to be considered “equal” under the EPA. At the same time, job titles and classifications are not dispositive; it is the actual requirements of the jobs that control. “Whether two jobs are substantially equal requires a practical judgment on the basis of all the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including factors such as level of experience, training, education, ability, effort, and responsibility.” “Insubstantial or minor differences in the degree or amount of skill, or effort, or responsibility required for the performance of jobs will not render the equal pay standard inapplicable.”

The parties have submitted Nash Finch’s job description for head grocery buyer. According to the job description, a head grocery buyer’s duties include coordinating grocery merchandising, sales promotion, and the distribution of grocery pro- ducts; overseeing the use of grocery-merchandising, procurement, and advertising plans; supervising inventory turnover; evaluating customer-requested grocery items; keeping abreast of market trends; and regularly communicating with retail customers and vendors.

… … Thus, because Crosier, Ebensteiner, and Renstrom all performed these same functions, there can be little question that their jobs all involved equal skill and responsibility. … “Skill includes such considerations as experience, training, education, and ability” and “[r]esponsibility concerns the degree of accountability required in performing a job” (citation and quotations omitted). The only real dispute, then, is whether the jobs involved equal effort.

Both Crosier and Ebensteiner testified that they have greater workloads than typical head grocery buyers. As noted earlier, Ebensteiner is the head grocery buyer for two distribution centers that are approximately 300 miles apart: Fargo and Minot. Because of this, Ebensteiner testified, he has “double the responsibility”… .

Without evidence of Renstrom’s typical work schedule, it is not possible to compare the burden imposed on Renstrom by her additional duties with the burdens imposed on Crosier and Ebensteiner by their additional duties. In light of the undisputed evidence that both Crosier and Ebensteiner had essentially “double work”—Crosier because he handled military installations, and Ebensteiner because he handled two distribution centers—Renstrom cannot meet her burden to show that the jobs required equal effort. (“The terms [equal skill, equal effort, and equal responsibility] constitute separate tests, each of which must be met in order for the equal pay standard to apply.”). The Court therefore grants defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Renstrom’s EPA claim….

[Employer’s motion for summary judgment GRANTED.]

Case Questions

1. For the purpose of the EPA, are each of Nash Finch’s distribution centers separate “establish- ments” as that term is used in the EPA?

2. Did the record before the court show that Ms. Renstrom performed work equal to that of Crosier and Ebensteiner? All three had the same job title, “head grocery buyer.”

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