Diversity & Inclusion

She works hard for the money

by Kylie Crawford TenBrook

Several years ago, I attended a celebration for one of my brothers, who had just become an Eagle Scout. Several relatives were there, including some distant relatives I hadn’t seen in years. One of those distant relatives, who is close to my age, approached me, and the following exchange took place. (The comments in parentheses are my thoughts as the conversation progressed. Please take my fresh-out-of-law- school cockiness with a grain of salt―I have been severely humbled since then.)

Relative: So, Kylie, what are you doing these days?

Me:  I’m working at a law firm that practices labor and employment law.

Relative: Wow! It must be exciting being surrounded by so many smart lawyers!

Me: (It is. We’re all really smart.) Yes, it’s interesting work.

Relative: So what exactly is it that you do?

Me: (I work at an employment law firm―duh.) Huh?

Relative: Do the lawyers take you with them when they go to court?

Me: (Wait a minute.)

Relative: Do you get to watch while they argue? Or do you have to stay back at the office to answer the phones while the lawyers go to court? I’ll bet they’re all really handsome.

Me: (What the &%*# just happened?) I am the lawyer (you moron).

Sex equality and pay equity are all the rage right now. Often, I find myself reading articles on the topic that come across my desk and thinking to myself, “Self, this is much ado about nothing. I have a great job that pays well, and I feel I’m treated fairly. (I hope my boss is reading this.) I wish everyone would stop their whining.” And while it’s true that I have been very fortunate throughout my career, I am reminded that the exchange above took place because stereotypes and disparities still exist. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) believes the stereotypes and disparities are pervasive, particularly with respect to pay.

So hard for it, honey

As a part of its 2013-16 Strategic Enforcement Plan, the EEOC announced that it would be targeting compensation systems and practices that discriminate on the basis of sex.

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is the law under which the EEOC will be fighting the pay equity battle. In 2012, the EEOC received 1,082 charges alleging violations of the EPA. Although the agency filed only two lawsuits under the EPA in 2012, that number is expected to go up in the next couple of years as the EEOC focuses its attention on gender pay equity and the topic becomes more prevalent in the media.

So you better treat her right

You’ve gotten your heads-up, so now what do you do? For one thing, your company should be conducting pay audits to ensure that sex isn’t― and hasn’t―been a factor in your pay decisions and practices. As a starting place, take a look at equally qualified, equally performing, equally tenured employees in similar positions―are they all paid equally? If not, see if the disparity falls along gender lines. If it does, you need to do some adjusting and perhaps provide some back pay (with a release, of course). Even if the disparity doesn’t appear to be based on gender, you likely should do some adjusting because someone somewhere will claim the difference is based on some protected characteristic. Make sure your audits involve legal counsel so you have some attorney-client privilege protection.

Kylie Crawford TenBrook serves as corporate counsel for Best Western International, Inc., in Arizona. Previously, she practiced labor and employment law exclusively. In her spare time, she enjoys reading about the misdeeds of celebrities, politicians, and professional athletes and making the tenuous connection between those missteps and what she does for a living.

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