Gender gaps hiding in pay structures will create flood of new EEOC complaints

by on May 21, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Ledbetter Act raises risk women file EEOC complaints over pay

Most progressive managers would be insulted if somebody accused them of underpaying women. The issue of equal pay for equal work has been around for decades, and surely employers have gotten it by now.

You’d think so, but the latest data shows that women’s pay still lags almost 25% behind that of men. And suddenly, the new Congress has given everyone – especially HR – a burning reason to review organizational pay structures, just in case a gender gap has crept into yours.

That reason? The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which at this writing seemed certain to become law. (The bill passed the House and Senate and was getting a final brushup in the House before landing on President Obama’s desk.)

More Scope For Lawsuits and EEOC complaints

You may well have read about the Ledbetter case since the Supreme Court ruled on it in 2007. The court said women who discover they’ve been discriminated against by unequal pay have six months from the time the illegal pay practice began to make a legal or EEOC complaints. Democrats in Congress said this was unfair, because pay discrimination victims often don’t even know about the bias until long after it starts, given the difficulty of finding out what other people are paid.

So they wrote the Ledbetter Act (named for the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case). The bill gives employees six months after their last discriminatory paycheck to file EEOC complaints and/or court cases.

Piles of records kept for possible EEOC complaints
That’s where the trouble comes in. What would you do if a veteran employee suddenly had a lawyer contact you, claiming she’s been discriminated against for 20 years and demanding that you pull her pay records for that entire time – plus those of the male employees against whom she’s comparing herself!

Could you comply? Here’s how Michael Moore, an employment lawyer in Lancaster, PA, analyzes the situation: “The implications are huge for employers in terms of faulty memories, missing witnesses and mountains of documents. Defense of decades-old discrimination claims and EEOC complaints will necessitate the retention of more documents for longer periods.”

And that’s not all. The Ledbetter Act’s aftershocks will do more than affect record retention. It’s highly likely that female employees nationwide will sit up, take notice, and wonder whether they’re being paid fairly. (Another gender/pay bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act pending in Congress, will only exacerbate this trend.) The probable result? “A dramatic increase in pay discrimination lawsuits and EEOC complaints,” wrote the Littler Mendelson law firm’s governmental affairs team.

Beyond , you might want to do one more thing: Get together with your IT and payroll people and figure out a way to capture and record the basis for each and every compensation and promotion decision.

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