The company’s obligation, or lack thereof, to pay Ms. Lee a wage equal to that of Mr. Barkley is unclear. It should probably give her the raise to forestall any possible difficulty, but it might be the case that, strictly speaking, it need not. It would make sense for the company to train its middle managers in the rudiments of the federal and state law as it pertains to cases of this kind.
This case falls within the domain of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Section 3 of this statute forbids differential pay for members of the opposite sex doing the same job except in the following instances: 1] a seniority system; 2] a merit system; 3] a system which assigns wages on the basis of quality and/or quantity of production; 4] “…a differential based on any factor other than sex…”. If the need arises for the company to make a defense of its current posture, then, obviously, it is the language of the fourth clause that would be the basis for that defense.
Levin-Epstein (1987) has noted that at least one appellate court has held that the phrase “any other factor than sex” does not mandate that such factors be either job-related or that they be typically used to set compensation scales has pointed out that this language would also permit “…salary differentials that stem from unequal starting salaries because of different experience levels…”.
Ms. Lee’s supervisor stated to her that the differential in question was a function of Mr. Barkley’s higher level of educational attainment and because the market for entry level Web page designers had become more competitive between the time she had been hired and the time Mr. Barkley had been hired.
Ms. Lee is not without a case here. What part of Mr. Barkley’s education would make him more qualified to design Web pages than Ms. Lee’s “few classes”? That is, does his higher level of education translate, as more actual job experience presumably would, into a higher level of expertise with respect to the actual job he does? If, in fact, he has had more Graphics Design, or Web page creation classes, than Ms. Lee, then the company is in the clear. Even though the company criterion for its wage differential need not, under court interpretation of the “any other factor than sex” clause, be job-related, it should, in the event of a dispute, have a position that is as legally fortified as possible. The company should check into what classes Mr. Barkley took and what classes Ms. Lee took. It might prove to be the case that she had taken more classes relevant to their work than he had. In that case the company’s position would be undermined.