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Collinsville woman wins Equal Pay Act lawsuit

by Josh Jones

Times Tribune Editor

TROY — A Collinsville woman has been awarded over $40,000 after winning a lawsuit against Cooper B-Line Inc. regarding violations of the Illinois Equal Pay Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

According to information provided by Leskera Law Firm, Lynette Hongsermeier, of Collinsville, won her lawsuit against Cooper B-Line, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Eaton Corporation, which operates a manufacturing plant located at 816 Lions Drive in Troy.  

Hongsermeier, who has worked at the plant for the last 24 years, filed her lawsuit in Madison County Illinois Circuit Court, claiming her employer violated the Illinois Equal Pay Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.  Hongsermeier, who worked as Shipping Lead on the 1st Shift, alleged that her employer paid her less than it paid the male Shipping Lead on the 2nd Shift for performing the same duties.  

Hongsermeier discovered the unequal pay disparity and made an informal complaint to management.  Hongsermeier asked to be brought to the same pay rate as the male Shipping Lead and for back pay.  Cooper B-Line’s management held a meeting to consider Hongsermeier’s informal complaint.  The male Shipping Lead attended the meeting and was permitted to give his opinion that he performed additional duties that Hongsermeier did not perform.  Hongsermeier, however, was kept waiting outside the meeting room and brought into the meeting room only after Cooper B-Line, Inc. determined that Hongsermeier did not deserve equal pay, the release states.

The Court found that Hongsermeier’s employer violated both the Illinois Equal Pay Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act’s prohibition against gender discrimination.  The Court found that Cooper B-Line’s purported reason for paying the male Shipping Lead more than Hongsermeier was “illegitimate and pretextual.” Hongsermeier was awarded the sum of $34,949.54 for underpayment of wages together with interest.  

According to an order in the Circuit Court Third Judicial Circuit Madison County Illinois, A Right to Commence Action in Circuit Court was issued by the Illinois Department of Human Rights on Aug. 11, 2020, exhausting Hongsermeier’s administrative remedies, the lawsuit was filed Oct. 6, 2020. The case was heard as a bench trial on March 21 and April 11 and the parties submitted proposed decisions on June 2. Hongsermeier, as first shift shipping lead, was paid $20.46 hourly, a dollar above the classification of shipping coordinator, while the second shift shipping lead, was paid $20.87 hourly, a dollar above the classification of dual operator. This difference resulted in the second shift shipping lead receiving 41 cents more per hour than Hongsermeier. During the period from March 10, 2019 to March 22, 2020 the first shift shipping lead job was performed by Hongsermeier and the second shift job was performed by a male. 

The order notes that the defendant’s shipping lead earned one dollar above the highest classification “normally under his direction” under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. 

The Court also awarded Hongsermeier an additional $10,000 finding that Cooper B-Line Inc. interfered with Hongsermeier’s rights afforded by Illinois Equal Pay Act by holding the meeting to discuss Hongsermeier’s informal complaint without affording her notice and allowing Hongsermeier the opportunity to be heard at the meeting before Eaton Corporation decided the matter.  The Court noted that Cooper B-Line, Inc. “humiliated” Hongsermeier and failed to afford her with “basic principles of fairness including notice, the right to be heard, and the opportunity to make her case…” The Court further ordered Cooper B-Line Inc. to pay Hongsermeier’s reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

Hongsermeier was represented by Jay Leskera, Justin Leskera and Jordan Leskera of the Leskera Law Firm located at 120 East Church Street in Collinsville, Illinois.  

When asked to comment on the Court’s Decision, Hongsermeier’s Attorney Jay Leskera spoke of the importance of protecting women’s worker rights. 

“Our firm is proud to protect the rights of women in the workplace,” Jay Leskera said. 

Jay Leskera spoke on representing Hongsermeier in this case. 

“Our firm has tremendous respect for Lynn Hongsermeier. Lynn stood up to the company and refused to back down. We are proud to serve as Lynn’s attorneys in this litigation.” 

 Cooper B-Line, Inc. was represented by Sean Herring and Richard Mrizek of the Jackson Lewis law firm located at 150 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.  The Times Tribune attempted to contact Cooper B-Line, Inc./Eaton Corporation for comment and calls were not returned by press time. 


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