New Mexico's chief federal judge has ordered a convenience store chain to pay $48,655 in back pay to a woman who was paid less than her husband as part of a husband-and-wife management team.

U.S. District Judge Juan Burciaga ruled the practice of paying less money to women who were part of such management teams was unfair and illegal.A 1989 lawsuit filed by Sandra Dean of Farmington contested the policy of 7-2-11 stores in the Four Corners area in which the wife was paid minimum wage while the husband received a sales commission, usually a much greater amount.

In 1988, Sandra Dean made $7,350 while her husband, Victor, earned $31,757 for similar work.

Burciaga rejected arguments this week by parent company United Food Stores Inc., based in Farmington, that the couple didn't perform equal work.

"The fact of the matter is that (United Food) hired and received the services of two managers - one male and one female - while paying only the male employee a manager's salary," Burciaga said.

Burciaga also dismissed company arguments that the couple was a single economic unit and that half the husband's income was the property of the wife, anyway, under New Mexico community property law.

The economic unit and community property arguments relied upon "the archaic premise that it is permissible to pay a husband for his wife's labor," Burciaga said in the opinion.