The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

DAPC on verge of lawsuit victory


A federal magistrate judge has determined that the Development Authority of Peachtree City did not violate the Equal Pay Act by paying former amphitheater director Kristi Rapson less than former tennis center director Virgil Christian.

U.S. Magistrate Walter E. Johnson is recommending that summary judgment be granted to the authority, which would effectively end Rapson’s equal pay suit. A U.S. District Court Judge will take that recommendation under advisement and also hear any objections to the recommendation from attorneys for either party.

The authority had spent more than $90,000 to defend itself as of last fall, according to the DAPC.

The authority did not violate the Equal Pay Act in paying Christian more than Rapson because the two jobs were substantially different, Johnson wrote in a detailed, 59-page report to the U.S. District Court.

One of the main differences between the two jobs was in terms of the operating hours of both facilities, Johnson wrote. The amphitheater, which hosts concerts and school events, hosts roughly 35 events a year while the tennis center “is open every day of the year except Christmas, 14 hours per day during the week, 12 hours per day on Saturdays and eight hours per day on Sundays,” Johnson wrote. “Mr. Christian was present at the center during the majority of those hours and was on call the rest of the time.”

The two positions also differed in terms of management responsibilities, Johnson indicated.

Rapson, who resigned in October 2001 over the pay dispute with the authority, supervised two full-time year-round employees and 41 seasonal part-time employees and contractors for the summer concert series. But Christian was responsible for 15 full-time year-round employees and 20 part-time seasonal employees.

Thus, Johnson concluded “... That the two positions are not substantially equal in terms of skill, effort and responsibility.”

The differences in Rapson’s and Christian’s compensation were also due to the incentives built into Christian’s contract based on performance of the tennis center, including a percentage of all lessons taught at the center, Johnson noted.

The authority never changed Christian’s base pay of $30,000, Johnson noted.

Although Christian’s base pay was just $30,000 a year, with the incentives he received an average of $120,957 a year between 1996 and 2001, according to Johnson’s report. That included any reported income or loss from the pro shop, which Christian was allowed to operate rent-free at the tennis center and was operated by tennis center employees.

Rapson’s compensation rose by roughly 50 percent in about two-and-a-half years after she complained about the pay discrepancy between her and Christian, Johnson noted. She also received a commission based on the sponsorships sold to the amphitheater’s summer concert series.

In September 2001, a month before Rapson resigned, the authority voted to raise her total compensation for 2001-2002 to $83,896, a 3.2 percent increase which included $11,000 in commission income, Johnson noted.

In his report to the U.S. District Court, Johnson also rejected Rapson’s claim that the authority discriminated against her based on her gender.

“The undisputed facts show that the authority was generous with increases in plaintiff’s compensation after she complained,” Johnson wrote. “However, that generosity could not be unlimited given that the authority, as a public agency, could not pay someone substantially more than the market said someone who managed an amphitheater was worth.

In the suit, Rapson also claims the authority retaliated against her for her pay complaint by requiring her to get permission for non-budgeted expenditures over $500 and having to consult with an authority member before hiring, firing or giving pay increases to amphitheater employees.

Johnson determined those were institutional controls enacted by the authority which did not raise to the level of “retaliation” required for the lawsuit to survive.

“None of the items about which plaintiff complains can serve as the basis for a retaliation claim,” Johnson wrote, adding that the changes were brought by the authority to “establish responsible oversight.”

Johnson did side with Rapson on a minor part of the suit, ruling that the authority could not claim the amphitheater and tennis center are separate establishments. But that decision did not affect Johnson’s final recommendation that summary judgment be granted to Rapson.