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Closing arguments given in Modesto discrimination lawsuit

Modesto's internal study describing wage discrimination complaints in its Finance Department should tip the scales for a jury considering a lawsuit from two women who claim the city underpaid them, their attorney said Wednesday.

"You have the city's own admission that the statute was violated," Gary Goyette said in closing arguments of the trial.

That 2002 report by then-equal opportunity officer Jason Mauga concluded that customer service supervisors Jo Ann Bertolotti and Leslie Curtin deserved equal pay to that of a male employee who managed the Finance Department's purchasing activities.

Otherwise, the study suggested, Modesto was opening itself up to claims that it was violating the California Equal Pay Act.

Goyette characterized that report as binding and complete under the supervision of the city attorney's office.

Shelline Bennett, Modesto's attorney in the trial, countered that the study prompted a series of steps aimed at evaluating complaints from the employees and ensuring they collected the pay they deserved.

"The city had no choice," Bennett said. "It couldn't just move them up because the city is a government entity. It cannot grant employee requests for more money without going through the gender-neutral pay classification system."

For Bertolloti and Curtin, those steps included checks for back wages that Mauga suggested, a job classification study that raised their salaries and a grievance claim that resulted in further evaluations of their responsibilities.

Goyette said those reports played a role in prompting the lawsuit. The back wages, for example, were issued in 2004 but they paid the women for work through 2002. Bertolotti and Curtin didn't have their salaries raised to the level cited in Mauga's report, despite the checks.

"They had no choice but to do this to get their questions answered," Goyette said.

City employees filled half of the courtroom before Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge William Mayhew.

Four of them -- solid waste division manager Jocelyn Reed, waste specialist Karin Rodriguez, budget officer Debra Eggerman and Fire Department business analyst Lori Martinez -- have sued the city under gender discrimination claims.

Reed, Rodriguez and Eggerman settled their case in March for $3.25 million. Their claims were more complex than those in the ongoing trial. The city did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

Martinez was part of the trial taking place before Mayhew, but he dismissed her claims when the city argued they had expired under the statute of limitations. Martinez worked out of class for four years in the Finance Department and sought a boost in the back wages she received from that period.

Others in the courtroom testified on the city's behalf. They included City Manager George Britton, Deputy City Manager Judith Ray, Personnel Director Robin Renwick, Deputy Personnel Director Barbara Santos and Fire Chief Jim Miguel.

Two other city employees in attendance had central roles in the trial.

Deputy Finance Director Cheryl Detmar told the jury the women deserved higher pay. She was the key witness for Goyette.

Purchasing manager Mark Averell, meanwhile, was the male employee whose salary formed the basis of Mauga's report.

Bennett described his work as substantially different from Bertolotti's and Curtin's.

The attorney said Averell answered to a higher manager in the Finance Department, and he supervised all of the city's contracts from "paper clips to fire engines."

"The jobs are not equal," Bennett said.

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

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