Modesto must pay $189,109 to two women in its Finance Department who sued the city, claiming they were underpaid compared with a male colleague, a jury ordered Thursday.
Nine of the 12 jurors sided with customer service supervisors Jo Ann Bertolotti and Leslie Curtin. In civil trials, plaintiffs have to con- vince nine jurors to prevail.
Three years ago, Bertolotti and Curtin received lump-sum checks for back wages at a higher pay grade for work they did until 2002. They did not receive salary increases for beyond that date.
That raised questions for the women, who later found out that those checks resulted from a city study that concluded they deserved a boost in wages to make their salaries equal to that of Mark Averell, who oversees the Finance Department's purchasing.
"We got the verdict, and that's what mattered," Curtin, 41, said. "It said it was not OK to let this happen to people."
"I'm just really glad that it's over," Bertolotti, 55, said. "It seems like a dream because we come to work every day. I never, ever thought I would go through something like this at work."
The $189,109 is for back pay, interest and damages beyond 2002.
Modesto plans to appeal to the trial judge, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge William Mayhew. A hearing is set for Jan. 4.
"The verdict contradicts the evidence developed during trial, especially from plaintiffs' own witnesses, and the law," Modesto's attorney, Shelline Bennett, said in a news release.
Two other significant issues remain outstanding:
Gary Goyette, a Sacramento attorney who represented Bertolotti and Curtin, has yet to file a request with the court to have Modesto pay his legal fees.
Bertolotti and Curtin won't receive their award unless the appeal is decided in their favor. They also are seeking permanent pay raises.
"The battle's never over," Goyette said. "Of course we're extremely satisfied that the jury came to what we feel is the right verdict."
Bertolotti and Curtin filed their lawsuit along with Fire Department business analyst Lori Martinez in July 2005, alleging that Modesto violated the California Equal Pay Act.
Martinez held Averell's job for four years under an interim position and sought a pay boost for that period, but Mayhew dismissed her claim when the city argued that she filed too late.
In the trial, Goyette centered his arguments on the 2002 city study that prompted Modesto to issue the women back wages and on testimony from Finance Deputy Director Cheryl Detmar, who has supervised Averell, Bertolotti, Curtin and Martinez.
"Jo Ann, Lori and I did the right thing when the city walked in and handed us a check and admitted they violated the law," Curtin said. "I guess they expected us to just say 'Thank you,' and go ahead, keep violating the law."
Bennett countered by describing Modesto's gender-neutral pay classification system. She asserted Modesto treated the women fairly, using the 2002 study as the basis for job evaluations that led to the women receiving pay raises.
Bennett also argued Averell's assignments demanded more responsibility.
Bertolotti and Curtin described the lawsuit as stressful because they work closely with high-level city executives.
"Filing a lawsuit against your employer is terrifying," Curtin said. "You're scared of retaliation, and just the emotional stress alone is beyond difficult. Regardless, we get to look in the mirror and know we did the right thing, and we did it with integrity."
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.