I recently received an email from a woman who reached out to me from having read my article, Equal Work, Unequal Pay: What to do if You’re the Victim of Gender Discrimination. Sara* related to me about the challenges of advocating for herself after discovering that she was getting paid less than her male coworkers.
She had filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and they in turn found her bosses to be in violation of the equal pay act. She wanted my advice on whether she should settle for the amount that the company was offering her— $3,000 and a waiver not to sue or go public with her story. Sara was confounded, the settlement amount felt like an insult she said, and wondered if it was better just to refuse the offer and just go public with her story.
My advice was two-fold. One was never accept the first offer, and two never walk away from money, even if it’s a small amount. What surprised me most about Sara’s situation was how far she had gotten in her case of pay inequity. EEOC rarely gets such fast results and the fact that her district office accomplished such a definitive result in her favor proved that Sara indeed had been severely wronged. It was even more surprising that she was able to come to me with a settlement offer that was accomplished exclusively through EEO and without the involvement of any employment attorney. It baffled me that she was actually seriously considering walking away from the $3,000. She was more interested in getting revenge against her discriminating bosses rather than negotiating for a better settlement.
Since I have also experienced pay inequality, I understood her pain and frustration. There’s nothing worse than being demeaned by men and demeaned for being a woman. However in order to right the wrong that is done, women need to take back the money that is owed to them. Whether this happens through an EEOC complaint or through a private lawsuit, the person who lost out unfairly in wages need to gain it back. Period.
So I told Sara to walk away from the first offer but not from the fight. If she had been able to carry it this far with the EEO judgment in her favor, then it would be silly to give up now.
She sent me word a few days ago that her EEOC representative was able to negotiate a final settlement of $8,000. Sara thanked me for encouraging her to fight to get what she was worth. Self-advocacy doesn’t just begin with asserting a claim—it has everything to do with taking back your self-respect and in employment situations, the only way to accomplish this is by taking back the wage that you were denied.
Many people believe that suing companies is a waste of tax dollars but unless you’ve been at the short end of a wage gap, you won’t truly understand how demoralizing it is for the person getting paid less at the hands of discrimination.
Bottom line is most people will try to get away with bad behavior unless this behavior is checked. If you’re a woman, a minority, a disabled worker or an older worker, it’s up to you to stand up and advocate for yourself. The worst thing you can do is give up and do nothing—it’s as if you’re acquiescing to the discrimination.
*name was changed to adhere to the confidentiality agreement
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