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Have you offered a well-qualified applicant a lower-ranking position than her experience indicates she’s qualified to perform? If so, better make sure there’s no sex disparity in your hiring patterns.

Here’s why: If it just so happens that you’re offering more money or higher-ranking positions to most new male hires with similar experience, you're playing with fire. Qualified women you’ve hired and paid less may band together and sue, alleging sex discrimination and violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA).

That’s why it’s important to analyze your work force regularly. Plus, make sure you document why you placed each new hire where you did on the salary and position schedules. Do this at the time you make the hiring decision. If there’s a lawsuit later on, judges and juries may be suspicious and look closely at any rationalizations for discrepancies and illegal discrimination cover-ups.

Recent case: Margaret Cox and several other women who had been hired as investigators by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) soon discovered that almost all the men who applied were offered higher-paying and higher-ranking positions. The women sued, alleging sex and EPA discrimination.

OAE managers admitted that the women had the qualifications and experience for the higher-level positions when they applied, but they had nothing in their files from the time of each hire to indicate why the women were placed where they were. Later, management tried to go back through its records and justify what it had done.

The judge ordered a trial and said it was up to the jury to decide whether the later justifications were valid and honest or just an attempt to justify hiring discrimination. (Cox v. Office of Attorney Ethics of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, No. 05-1608, DC NJ, 2007)  

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