The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing a school district in New York for allegedly violating the federal Equal Pay Act. The district, the EEOC says, paid a female superintendent less than a male superintendent for the same work. The case raises questions about the use of salary history questions or background checks as part of the pre-employment screening process, as these questions can often have the affect of perpetuating discriminatory pay gaps in the workplace.
According to an EEOC press release dated March 31, the commission is suing the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District, located in the town of Tannersville, New York. The district, the EEOC claims, “violated federal law by paying lower wages to a female superintendent than it paid to a male superintendent performing work that required substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility.”
The female superintendent, Dr. Susan Vickers, came into the Hunter-Tannersville superintendent position with a doctorate in education, 26 years of professional experience “in education and educational leadership,” and other impressive credentials. Despite her resume, Dr. Vickers earned a lower salary for the school district than had been offered to her male predecessor. The EEOC says this pay discrepancy represents a violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and has therefore filed suit seeking “back pay, liquidated damages and injunctive relief, including an order barring the school district from engaging in discriminatory treatment in the future.” The press release notes that the EEOC attempted “to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process,” but was unable to do so.
Equal Pay Act lawsuits are important for employers to consider, especially in states (including New York) where salary history bans are in place. Currently, dozens of cities, counties, or states have some level of restriction in place that limits an employer’s ability to ask candidates about their salary history. This type of legislation has grown increasingly common in recent years, due to the belief that employers use salary history information—rather than the nature of the position at hand—to decide what salary to offer a new hire. Critics suggest that, by making salary decisions based on a person’s pay history – rather than based on their skills and qualifications, or on the demands of the job – employers risk perpetuating a pay gap that negatively affects women and minorities.
Sometimes, employers will ask about salary history on the job application, as part of the employment history section. Other times, employers will learn that information through a work history verification background check. While salaries are typically one piece of information that background check agencies such as backgroundchecks.com can obtain through employment verification checks, it is important for employers to know what the legal footing is in their state or municipality for seeking this type of information.
Employers should also consider more than just a candidate’s past wages to decide their salary offer. What level of experience does the person bring to the job? Does the candidate have extra qualifications—such as professional licenses or high-level degrees and certifications—that adds to their appeal as an applicant? What salaries have workers earned in the past, working the same job that is to be filled? Considering all these factors, and complying with any and all salary history ban laws, are crucial steps to help employers avoid equal pay lawsuits similar to the one recently brought against Hunter-Tannersville Central School District.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.