Ignoring an employee’s persistent complaints that she’s being paid less than her male counterparts may amount to a willful violation of the Equal Pay Act (EPA). And willful violations add a year onto the two years of back-pay liability.
Recent case: Jean Grover rose through the ranks at Smarte Carte, an airport locker and cart service. She eventually became vice president and earned about $160,000 per year. Two male counterparts earned more—as much as $300,000.
Grover complained often and loudly to upperabout the difference. Finally, after hounding a senior manager for a year, she got stock options as partial compensation, although the company never admitted she was underpaid.
Later, she was terminated in a reduction in force in which she was the only employee cut. Grover sued, alleging EPA violations.
Smarte Carte argued that because she sold her stock options for over $1 million, that should be added to her total compensation. If that were the case, she out-earned the men.
The court disagreed. It said that averaging pay over many years after an employer remedies a complaint isn’t fair to the employee and would mean employers could wait until pushed to respond and avoid liability.
Then the court said that Grover could go back a full three years with her annual claims, because by ignoring her pleas for pay equity, the company willfully violated the EPA. (Grover v. Smarte Carte, No. 09-3282, DC MN, 2011)