New risk: Promotion without pay

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

After her male supervisor retired, Lynda Hunt was promised a raise and a new job title if she'd take on some of her ex-supervisor's duties. She agreed and began training, disciplining and evaluating employees.

But neither the raise nor the promotion ever materialized. Hunt complained and asked for additional pay and training. If she didn't get it, she wanted to return to her former duties. In response, the company suspended her for a week without pay. When she returned, Hunt continued doing her supervisor's job without the extra pay or the promotion. After another complaint, she was put on probation and then fired.

She sued, claiming violation of the Equal Pay Act. A federal appeals court upheld a $105,000 jury verdict in favor of Hunt. Reason: Even though she didn't have the same title as the former supervisor, she was doing substantially equal work that required the same responsibility, skill and effort. (Hunt v. Nebraska Public Power Dist., No. 00-3632, 8th Cir., 2002)

Advice: It's not unusual or unreasonable for you to assign additional responsibilities to employees without a pay raise. But this case proves that asking a female worker to take on the duties of a male employee could open you up to an equal pay claim. When you're making such changes, reassess the pay-and-title situation for any whiff of gender bias.

Rule of thumb: Be consistent. To avoid equal pay lawsuits, examine whether employees working under similar conditions are being paid equally for jobs requiring the same effort and responsibility.

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