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Similar jobs with different pay may be EPA trap

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a trap that may catch you unaware unless you regularly compare jobs and who actually holds the positions. If two jobs are roughly comparable, but mostly women hold one of the jobs and mostly men hold the other and you pay one more than the other, you are asking for trouble.

That’s why a regular job audit—including careful analyses of duties, responsibilities, effort and required skills—is crucial. The audit also should tally which sex predominantly holds each type of job. Then, make certain the pay scales are equivalent. Otherwise, you risk an Equal Pay Act (EPA) lawsuit.

Note: It doesn’t matter which sex is paid less—either males or females can sue over the differential.

Recent case: Cara Hankinson worked for the Thomas County School District as a softball coach until the district fired her, allegedly for treating her players poorly. She sued, alleging she was fired because she was a woman. Then her lawyer added a second claim—that she had been underpaid because the school district paid its male baseball coach more money.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the sex discrimination claim but allowed Hankinson’s EPA claim to go forward. 

Here’s why: The court compared the two positions and concluded baseball and softball are roughly comparable sports. And while the baseball team played more games and those games generally lasted longer, the baseball coach had an assistant coach to help him. This meant that arguably the two jobs, each held by a different sex, might be equivalent under the EPA. A jury will decide whether that’s the case. (Hankinson v. Thomas County School System, No. 07-11948, 11th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Examples of comparable jobs include nurse practitioners and physician assistants; coaches for female and male sports teams; and retail buyers for soft goods (e.g., clothing) and hard goods (e.g., electronics). In these classifications, women tend to hold the first positions, while men hold the second positions. 

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