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What Is Salary Discrimination?

Unfortunately, there are many kinds of discrimination in the workplace. From race and gender discrimination to discrimination against individuals with disabilities, employees may face hardship at every turn. However, what about salary? Can an employee face discrimination if their salary is too high or too low? Keep reading to find out.

Understanding Discrimination

In general, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines discrimination as negative or unfavorable treatment by one person to another based on characteristics or circumstances. Most people think of discrimination in very limited terms like race or gender. However, discrimination can occur for a number of reasons from a person’s disability to their educational background and economic standing.

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against workers for being in a protected class or any other reason. The EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor have established laws that protect workers and create reporting structures for victims of discrimination. Human resources departments are representatives of these structures in the workplace and should provide sufficient guidance and support to those facing harassment and discrimination.

Discrimination, while illegal under the law, can happen at any time from the hiring process to retirement. Keep reading to find out more about discrimination against current employees.

Pay Discrimination

One form of discrimination often dismissed as a slight rather than discrimination involves salary and compensation. Pay discrimination occurs when an employer fails to pay equal wages to employees doing equal work. According to federal law, this form of discrimination occurs despite the “substantially equal responsibility, skill, and effort, and work under similar conditions.”

However, this definition can be misleading as many people interpret it to mean that employees must have the same job title. The reality is that as long as the job content is recognized as equal between two employees, there must be equal compensation.

Salary discrimination also does not strictly apply to annual wages. Pay discrimination may impact:

  • Bonuses
  • Overtime
  • Vacation pays
  • Benefits
  • Profit-sharing
  • Stock options
  • Reimbursement
  • Allowances

As long as the employer is not providing equal compensation to employees with substantially equal responsibilities, they are committing pay discrimination.


Pay Discrimination Based on Age

A Gen Z sales associate and a Gen X customer success associate work at the same retail service desk and perform equal job responsibilities. However, the younger sales associate receives an hourly wage of $25 per hour while the older customer success associate receives only $15 per hour.

Pay Discrimination Based on Gender

A female engineering professor and a male aeronautics professor working in the same engineering department at a university are up for tenure. Both professors have equal education, experience, and merit and the department has two spots open for tenure. However, only the male professor is granted tenure along with another male colleague.

Pay Discrimination Based on Race and Sex

A designer store employs two personal shoppers: a white male and an African American woman. Both personal shoppers work on commission, but the white male employee makes an average of 15% more per sale than his African American female coworker.

Pay Discrimination Based on Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation

Two realtors at a local brokerage are sent to a mandatory regional conference. One realtor is a cisgender heterosexual woman while her coworker is a transgender man. Upon their return to the office, only the cishet woman receives travel reimbursement despite both realtors purchasing plane tickets for the conference.

Legal Options for Pay Discrimination

If an individual believes they are experiencing wage discrimination, they must take the matter to their human resources representative as soon as possible. If the HR rep does not provide sufficient support or guidance, it may be time to consult an attorney.

A lawyer can assist with building a case and collecting evidence of discrimination for a formal lawsuit. This is a tedious process, and it requires legal experience. A qualified attorney can provide the guidance and support necessary to combat discrimination.

If you believe you have a wage discrimination case, contact Eldridge & Blakney, PC.