Fresno math educator and former Assembly candidate Aileen Rizo, whose legal battle for equal pay for women attracted national attention, brought a message of economic and political empowerment to Bakersfield on Saturday.
Speaking to a gathering of the Democratic Women of Kern at Oildale's Rasmussen Senior Center, the former Arizona Republican told of how she decided to sue her former employer, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, after learning a male colleague with less education and work experience was earning considerably more money for doing the same work as her.
When she pressed a human resources official with the agency to explain the pay discrepancy, she was told it was the result of a "formula" at work: He had simply made more money at his previous job than she had.
"She (the HR person) said, 'That's the way we've always done it,'" Rizo said.
Not until she came home one night to the embraces of her daughters did Rizo decide she would bring a lawsuit claiming pay discrimination by the agency. She said she realized then that the inequality affected not only her but her children as well.
Although she eventually prevailed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the decision was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the ruling was invalid because the judge who wrote the majority opinion died shortly before it was published. The case is now pending before the 9th Circuit.
Rizo has become an outspoken advocate for equal pay for women, testifying in Sacramento before the state Legislature in support of the California Fair Pay Act, signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown Oct. 6, 2015. The act allows employees to discuss their fellow workers' pay levels and closed loopholes used by some companies to justify gender-based pay differences.
She ran as a Democrat in 2018 for the 23rd Assembly District seat held by Fresno incumbent Jim Patterson, winning 40.6 percent of the vote to his 59.4 percent.
In a brief question-and-answer session after her presentation, which received a standing ovation from scores of people in attendance Saturday, Rizo urged members of the audience to engage with the political process.
Don't be discouraged by the fact that lobbyists greatly outnumber elected representatives in the capital, she said.
"Don't forget that the world is malleable and that one voice can make a difference," she said.