In our last post, we highlighted how California’s new Equal Pay Act can help employees who challenge pay disparities based on gender. Essentially, the new law puts the burden of proof on employers to prove that such disparities are based on gender neutral factors, such as tenure, workplace responsibilities or specific expertise.

It remains to be seen how courts will apply the new law. Chances are that it could be applied in a lawsuit that a number of female attorneys have brought against Farmers Insurance. In fact, the Los Angeles based insurer may be facing a class action lawsuit if the plaintiffs have their way. 

The group claims that Farmers engaged in a continued pattern of discrimination against female attorneys by routinely paying male attorneys more money, putting them on higher profile cases, and promoting them much quicker than female attorneys. They claim that Farmers’ discriminatory pay and promotion structure dates back to the 1970’s.

The group has also filed a motion to certify themselves as a class, which would allow hundreds of other, similarly situated women to join in the lawsuit. If the court allows female attorneys who worked for Farmers from June 2012 to the present, it is estimated that nearly 300 more plaintiffs could be added to the suit.

This is not the first time a major insurer has been sued because of discriminatory pay practices. A similar lawsuit against State Farm Insurance was settled after years of litigation for $157 million in 1992.

If the plaintiffs’ motion is granted, it could change the tenor of litigation in this matter.