What can you do if you think you’re experiencing compensation discrimination?
If you think you might be experiencing pay discrimination, you should:
Educate yourself about your rights:
- Visit the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC enforces the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You can learn about your rights and find out how and when to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. For federal sector employment, you also can refer to your agency’s federal sector complaint procedures.
- Be aware of the timeframe for filing a charge with the EEOC. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 clarifies the time a complainant has to file a charge of compensation discrimination for purposes of Title VII. Under Title VII, a complainant has up to 180 days (or 300 days, depending on the state, county and city) after the employer’s most recent discriminatory action to file a charge with the EEOC. The Ledbetter Act states that there is a new discriminatory action each time an employer writes a paycheck that reflects unequal wages.
- If you work for a federal contractor, visit the website of the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to learn more about your rights under Executive Order 11246.
- If you are concerned about employer policies that prevent you from discussing pay, or if you have experienced retaliation for talking about pay, visit the website of the National Labor Relations Board to learn more about your rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
Try to resolve the situation informally, such as meeting with your supervisor to discuss your concern.
If your supervisor is the person that you believe is responsible for the discrimination or if he or she is unable to assist you, try contacting a human resources staff person or whomever is designated in your employee handbook to address workplace issues. Review your employee handbook’s policies on discrimination to understand your company's preferred approach to complaints of discrimination. If you are a member of a union, consult your union representative. You may also consider more formal steps to resolve the situation, such as filing a discrimination charge.
Ensure that you keep accurate records.
If you decide to file a charge or complaint with one of the agencies mentioned above, you will need to be able to relay the facts as clearly as possible. Keep copies of any documents related to the employment discrimination, such as your pay stubs, emails, memoranda, letters, performance evaluations, and disciplinary actions.
- Think about whether there are any witnesses to the discrimination you experienced.
- Keep notes if necessary to help you remember key dates or conversations.
- Keep copies of all of these documents in a safe place.
Check with your state or local agency that administers state or local anti-discrimination laws.
Some states, counties and cities have laws that provide greater protections than those offered under federal law.
Obtain legal assistance, if necessary.
This could be your union representative or an attorney practicing employment or discrimination law. If you need an attorney referral, or think you cannot afford an attorney, you can contact your state’s Bar Association for assistance in locating an attorney who practices employment and/or discrimination law. Some bar associations can refer you to free (pro bono) legal services, and some law schools have programs through which law students provide free or reduced cost legal services as part of their training.
Ask for Help
These examples and suggestions are only a starting point. You can obtain further assistance from the resources section on this site.
Not sure you have a case? Read these women’s stories and learn how they fought for fairness:
EEOC v. KOKH
Phyllis Williams, an African American woman, had worked as a television news reporter for KOKH, in Oklahoma City, for nearly eight years when she complained to KOKH and to the EEOC that she was paid less than similarly situated male employees and similarly situated white female employees. After she filed her charge with the EEOC, Ms. Williams was denied a pay increase in retaliation for her complaints. EEOC filed suit on behalf of Ms. Williams, and in March 2011, KOKH agreed to pay $45,000 to settle the lawsuit. KOKH also agreed to develop anti-discrimination policies and provide anti-discrimination training to its employees.
EEOC v. Forrest City Grocery Company
Amanda McMillan had worked at Forrest City Grocery Company in Shaw, Mississippi for nearly a decade. Though hired as a clerical employee, Ms. McMillan had been assigned inside sales duties for some time, where she excelled, performing similar work to that of the company’s more highly paid and all male outside salespersons. Then, in 2007, she asked to be promoted to a vacant outside sales position. Despite being qualified and having performed similar duties for some time, she was denied the job. Forrest City Grocery told her that the work was too dangerous for a woman and that she would not be a good mother if she were on the road meeting customers. The company also denied her requests for a raise to match her pay to that of outside salespersons. When another outside sales position became available at the company five months later, Ms. McMillan was again turned down. The EEOC sued, and in October 2011, Forrest City Grocery agreed to pay $125,000 to Ms. McMillan to settle the lawsuit. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to be monitored by the EEOC, to provide copies of its employment policies to employees, and to provide ongoing training for management to help prevent future violation of federal employment discrimination laws.
EEOC v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation a/k/a Amtrak
Sheila Davidson worked as a Human Resources Regional Director at Amtrak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and since 2001 she had been paid less than her male counterparts. Over a period of five years, she watched Amtrak increase the salaries of her male colleagues while refusing to pay her more, despite the fact that she had equal or greater experience and a significantly heavier workload. After refusing to raise her salary, Amtrak immediately increased the pay of one of Ms. Davidson’s male colleagues when he was assigned to a region that was formerly her territory. When she raised the issue and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, Amtrak retaliated by excluding her from senior staff meetings. The EEOC sued, and in February 2011, Amtrak agreed to pay Ms. Davidson $171,483 and increase her salary by $16,505 to match it to that of the male colleague whose salary was raised when he was assigned to Davidson’s former territory. The settlement also prohibits Amtrak from engaging in any further sex discrimination and requires the rail carrier to provide training to senior human resources staff, to help prevent future violation of federal employment discrimination laws.
EEOC v. Hyundai Ideal Electric Co.
Tabatha Wagner learned that she was being paid less than a male colleague who was hired after her at Hyundai Ideal Electric Company. After she raised the issue to the company’s human resources manager, she was fired in retaliation for complaining. The EEOC sued, and in May 2011, Hyundai Ideal Electric agreed to pay $188,000 to Ms. Wagner to settle the lawsuit. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to provide training for all human resource personnel and employees at their Mansfield, Ohio facility, to help prevent future violation of federal employment discrimination laws.