Document claim of bias carefully

Dear Joan:
Is it really going to be 1990? The company that I work for is still in the 40's. Equal pay for equal work is unheard of in this place. I don't mean to be sarcastic, but it is the only way to approach my situation without exploding.

I recently found that a young man of 20 in our company is making the same salary that I am. I have worked for this company for 5 years trying to pay my dues as I was told I must. This young man has been employed for 2 years. We have the same education, but I have surpassed him in experience. I also hold a management position and am responsible for a five million-dollar category, in charge of a $250,000 computer system and am the key link between our industry and our outside sales force. So why do I make the same salary as a young gofer (nothing against that position, I was one once too).

I approached my superior with this question and I was told that it is because he is the head of a household and will soon have a child to support. I am sure by now you have figured out that I am a female and a very frustrated one at that.

Can you suggest any ideas (or recommend a good attorney) for this situation. I have tried to get my husband pregnant to prove to them that I am the head of a household but due to medical impossibilities have failed. Maybe I would feel more at ease if I knew that every company is like this.

The answer is simple but the solution is not. It's against the law to pay wages based on sex or marital status. The courts view "head of household" as a discriminatory way to pay employees. That's the simple answer. The rest gets more complicated.

Seniority and education alone doesn't give you the right to more money. If you took your case to court, the issue would be: If all the variables in both of your jobs are similar, and you are paid less, then there is discrimination. The burden of proof is on the employee.

Thomas Nelson, a Milwaukee-based attorney who represents employees in cases such as this, often finds that women can get trapped in situations like this one. "Sometimes a competent woman will take on an enormous amount of responsibility without a title or the pay to go with it. Although that's an excellent way to move up in an organization, she sometimes finds herself trapped if her company doesn't recognize her contributions. When she decides to act, she needs to know how the system works."

Nelson, who was formerly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has seen the system close up. He knows that it is a long, drawn-out process and can disrupt a workplace and cause bad feelings. He suggests that you define the issues first. Here are his suggestions:

1.      Although discrimination in pay often is seen as a continuing violation of the law, discrimination in promotions and job assignments often are not. To be on the safe side, just in case you do decide to file a complaint, you must do so within 240 days from the time you first found out about the pay difference. Count out the days on your calendar and mark it. Complaints can be filed with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Equal Rights Division of the State Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (ERD). (You may file up to the 300th day with either agency but your rights under both state and federal law will be preserved best if you file with the EEOC after 240 days.)/

2.      Use the time before the filing deadline to try to resolve the issue with your boss. If it works, you won't have to take legal steps. If it doesn't, you will have strengthened your case and stand a better chance of proving that discrimination is the variable that stands out and proves your case. Don't burn your bridges at this stage. Work within the system to gather information and to air grievances but use your knowledge of what is necessary to win a discrimination case to focus on what information is important.

·        First, ask for your job description and see if it is up to date. Check to see if your title matches your duties. For example, are you still called a "coordinator," the title you had before you were promoted to management?

·        Next, compare your job duties with other employees' job duties. Do this with the young man and with your peers. Don't let your emotions get in the way here. Don't think about who works harder or has been there longer- only concentrate on the duties in the job description. If you can't get copies of the job duties, ask your peers what they are responsible for and show them your duties for comparison.

·        Most important, if there are any men in the same job you have, try to find out what they make. This will be a better test than comparing yourself to the young man who is the gofer. Chances are, his duties are very different from yours. Even though it doesn't seem fair, the company could have a legitimate reason for paying that salary for his position (Entry level workers might be harder to find and thus their market value may have gone up since you held that job. Although this is not equitable treatment, you wouldn't have a case for discrimination based on sex or marital status.)

·        If needed, ask your supervisor to consider redefining your job so it reflects your actual duties. Then ask for a salary review. If he resists or ignores you, tell him that you are aware that the men in your position (or similar positions), with similar experience, education and accountabilities are making "x" percent more than you are. Tell him that you do not understand and ask to have it corrected.

3.      If your boss ignores your request, you may decide to avoid the fight and move to a company with salary policies you can live with. If you do file a discrimination complaint, you will be very well prepared. Your documented efforts to solve this situation will validate your reason for pursuing it and will give you a better chance of winning your case.



Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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