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Be prepared to cite skills to explain wage disparity

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees sometimes grow suspicious when employers hire new workers at higher wages than they earn.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that employees must make wage discrimination claims right away, it’s more likely than ever that employees who find out they are making less than a newcomer of a different race, sex or national origin will seek legal counsel.

And since a Texas employee has just 300 days to file a state or EEOC pay discrimination claim once he discovers a wage disparity, he probably won’t wait long.

That’s why you must be prepared to explain each and every wage difference with solid business-related reasons.

Good explanations include a new employee’s additional experience or enhanced skills that make him a more valuable and versatile worker. As the following case shows, it’s OK to pay more money to employees who are more valuable.

Recent case: Michael Tillman, who is black, was a laborer and pole framer for Southern Wood Preserving. Although his primary responsibilities were that of a laborer, Tillman occasionally filled in as a loader, hauling logs on and off trucks at the company’s plants.

When Tillman discovered that a white male, who was newly hired for a permanent loader position, was earning $9 per hour while Tillman got $8 as a laborer, he sued for race discrimination.

But Southern Wood Preserving had a legitimate explanation for the wage disparity. The new employee had more experience as a loader, in maintenance and in welding.

He could do more varied work. Because the new worker and Tillman didn’t perform essentially the same duties, the court said their wages didn’t have to be the same. (Tillman v. Southern Wood Preserving, No. 2:06-CV-33, 5th Cir., 2007)

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