New York City’s 5,000 school safety agents have signed on to a class action lawsuit accusing the city of paying them less than the special officers who perform similar work at homeless shelters and hospitals, SchoolBook reports.

The suit claims that the city is violating the federal Equal Pay Act because the majority of school safety agents are female, the article says. Three women with long careers as school safety agents filed the lawsuit in 2010.

Papers filed with the court say approximately 70 percent of school safety agents are female, but they make about 20 percent less than special officers, who are predominantly male. A special officer’s top salary is about $42,000 a year, compared to about $35,000 for a safety agent, the article reports.

School safety agents are responsible for patrolling buildings, intervening in altercations between students and ensuring that visitors are authorized, SchoolBook reports. They confiscate knives and witness gang activity as well. They act as peace officers under New York state law, so they – as well as the special officers – carry handcuffs, make arrests and use deadly force, if necessary, to perform their jobs.

Safety agents are hired and trained by the police department, but special officers work for the Health and Hospital Corporation, as well as six mayoral agencies including the Department of Homeless Services, the Human Resources Administration and the Administration of Children’s Services.

The city’s law depart confirms that it is evaluating the case, the article reports.

The Department of Education declined to comment on the litigation, but officials noted that since 2002 major crime in schools was down by 49 percent and violent crime declined by 45 percent. The police department – including its safety agents – has been responsible for school safety since 1998.