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Arguments begin in Modesto wage bias case

CERES -- Three women who claim Modesto shorted them on their salaries in the city's Finance Department want a jury to award them $237,000 in back wages -- plus interest -- to bring their pay up to level with a male colleague who they say does similar work.

Jo Ann Bertolotti, Leslie Curtin and Lori Martinez are relying on two key witnesses to make their case that the city violated the state's Equal Pay Act, according to the opening arguments in their trial Wednesday:

Deputy Finance Director Cheryl Detmar, who supervised the three women at various times. Court records show that Detmar believes the women are underpaid, and they perform jobs that require equal skill to a male colleague with a higher salary.

And former Modesto Equal Opportunity Officer Jason Mauga, who investigated complaints of gender discrimination in City Hall five years ago. He determined the women deserved better pay.

"The message that was received by my clients was you're not as good, you're not as smart," said Paul Goyette, one of the attorneys representing the women.

But Modesto's attorney, Shel- line Bennett, countered that the city followed its gender-neutral personnel standards when the women started raising concerns about their pay between 1999 and 2001.

She stressed that Mauga's findings were not binding, and that they led to salary audits. One of those audits contributed to pay increases for the women, though they did not raise their salaries to the same level as those of their male colleague.

Workloads, salaries compared

Modesto also issued the women back wages after Mauga's report.

"The city did the right thing," Bennett told a jury of six men and six women in Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge William Mayhew's Ceres courtroom.

Bertolotti and Curtin are customer service supervisors in the Finance Department; Martinez is a senior buyer.

Mauga compared the workloads and salaries of Bertolotti and Curtin with those of purchasing supervisor Mark Averell. He determined the customer service supervisor jobs deserved equal pay to Averell's position.

The city contends that its independent job classification surveys found that Averell's position requires broader responsibilities than the ones Bertolotti and Curtin hold.

When Mauga studied the jobs, Averell earned $31.30 an hour, about $6 more than Bertolotti or Curtin.

Martinez performed some of Averell's duties in addition to her own work before he was hired in 2001. She wants the city to award her extra pay for that time.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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