Equal Pay gap is sometimes justified

by on December 12, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Was Equal Pay gap discriminatory?

Bea Carlson tapped a folder on the desk for emphasis.

“Paul Sturdevant is the manager of the Elgin store,” Bea said. “He makes $60,000 a year. I’ve been acting manager of the Matthews Mall store for six months, and I’ve been paid $20,000. Something doesn’t add up.”

HR Director Colette Babcock looked sympathetically at Bea, who was a valued employee for her drive and her savvy with customers.

“Bea, I understand what you’re saying,” Colette told her. “You are doing an excellent job, and if things continue to go as well as they are at the Mall, we’ll be looking at a strongly favorable review for you in October. That’s just four months away.”

“That’s nice to hear,” she said. “But is that all?”

“Well, it’s all for now,” Colette said.

Additional duties but no additional pay

“I came in expecting you’d do something about my salary before October,” Bea said curtly. “I’ve been putting up with a discriminatory situation since last Christmas, and, as a woman, I think I’ve waited long enough for some fairness.”

“Wait a minute,” Colette said. “Who said anything about discrimination? Paul has other duties that we haven’t asked you to take on yet. There’s no reason for you to expect equal pay at this point.”

“I think there is,” said Bea.

“You will have to be patient,” Colette said. “Patience and self-control are also qualities we like to see in a manager.”

“We’ll see about that,” Bea said, getting up to go.

Bea filed a Gender Discrimination Case the company under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, claiming sex discrimination. Did she win?

The decision

No, Bea didn’t win.

She based her argument on the fact that she and Paul had the same job title. As a result, she said, she should get the same pay. Because she got less than a man with the same title, that proved gender discrimination, she said.


The courts said the job title wasn’t the only thing to consider. Bea also had to show that she and Paul did equivalent work, and she failed to.

In fact, Paul did substantially more than she did. Although Bea wasn’t aware of it, Paul was helping with a major corporate expansion project while also managing his store.

Salary fairness and Equal Pay

Title VII says it’s discrimination to treat a person in a protected class – like gender, race, national origin, and religion – less favorably than a “similarly situated” person outside that class. But Bea didn’t prove that Paul and she were similarly situated.

To make sure that you’re being fair with pay when making assignments and promotions, the important thing to look at is job responsibilities, not titles. If two employees have similar duties, they should get similar salaries.

Cite: Tiedeman v. Nebraska Dept. of Corrections, No. 04-3731, 8th Cir., 7/20/05

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