Does your organization have a training program designed to identify talented workers and give them the tools they need to move ahead? Then here’s some good news: Participating in such a program doesn’t mean an employee can win an Equal Pay Act claim by arguing some participants—who essentially undergo very similar training—are paid more for comparable work.
As long as the program accepts employees from a broad range of positions and with varied experience, chances are a court won’t conclude the trainees are performing nearly identical work under nearly identical conditions.
Courts recognize that such training programs are often aimed at giving a wide range of employees necessary training to improve performance.
Recent case: Loretha, a black woman, worked for Xerox for more than two decades, starting out as a secretary. She got regular promotions and raises, eventually earning a spot in the HR department. There, regular raises continued.
Xerox ran a development program called the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Program. It was designed to help hone the skills of employees identified as having great potential.
Employees selected for the training program came from many departments and held a variety of positions. Their training experiences, however, were similar. As part of the program, each participant was expected to develop a project that would net at least $500,000 in profit for Xerox.
Loretha sued, alleging that several men in the Lean Six Sigma program earned more than she did. She argued that because they all were in the same training program, their salaries should have been roughly the same under the Equal Pay Act.
Essentially, her argument boiled down to that everyone was performing the same job since their goals were the same: gain expertise and earn the company a $500,000 profit.
The court shot down Loretha’s argument and dismissed her lawsuit. It reasoned that each of the men to which Loretha compared herself held very different Xerox jobs outside the training program. For example, one was an engineer. Another worked in sales and marketing. They also had different educational backgrounds and different overall levels of experience. The court concluded that the positions were not substantially similar and, therefore, their pay did not have to be equal under the EPA. (McCollough v. Xerox Corporation, No. 12-CV-6405, WD NY, 2016)
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