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How $1 Can Buy You An Employment Lawsuit

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in Case In Point

I know that $1 can buy a double cheeseburger on the dollar menu under the arches. But now, can I really buy myself an employment lawsuit for just 100 pennies? A court this week said that one buck’s difference in pay between men and women can buy you a sex-bias lawsuit …

Case in Point: Susan King claimed her former employer, an Illinois marketing company, discriminated against her based on her gender. She sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act.

As part of her lawsuit, King provided the court with salary information for both male and female managers. The regional general manager who set the salaries said he had a “subjective process” when setting salaries but did not elaborate on how he reached pay decisions.

King’s starting salary was $40,000 and increased to $47,000 when she quit six years later. At that time, six female managers had salaries of $47,000 or below. In contrast, the salaries of a dozen male managers ranged from $55,000 to $122,000.

The employer defended the claims arguing the pay differences could be attributed to education, experience and random chance.

Ruling: The court refused the employer’s summary judgment request and sent the case to a jury trial. It said that although education and experience could explain differences in starting salaries, these reasons cannot explain why males received “substantially higher” pay increases than women during their time with the company. Even the company conceded that King was one of the top business managers, yet she only received a total raise of less than $7,000 in six years.

The court also didn’t go for the company’s claim that the salaries differences were a random act. As the court said, “It is difficult to see how every man could be paid more than all but one woman, and why men received greater raises, if [the company] were pulling numbers out of a jar.”

Finally, the court issued this ominous warning: “Even a dollar’s difference based on sex violates both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.” (King v. Acosta Sales & Mktg. Inc., 7th Cir., 3/13/12).

3 Lessons Learned … Without Going to Court

1. Don’t pay men more than women. Duh. Both of these laws were passed in the last century.

2. Don’t pay women more than men. Remember, it’s an “equal gender law” so the reverse is also true.

3. Don’t close your eyes to your own statistics. In this case, the court on its own compiled the salary and gender evidence into a chart to see the pay discrepancies in relation to gender. Do it first before the court does it to you.

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