So I found this case, Smith v. URS Corp., interesting because it involved a black employee Dollar signwho got what he wanted, but was still able to sue for discrimination.

The black employee received the job he applied for (training specialist) and more pay than he asked for ($57,668 instead of $46,000). He was given a classification title and job code of “Senior Training Specialist (65010)” and a job grade of S5.12. Five months later, a white applicant applied for the same training specialist job but asked for a $65,000 salary. He was hired into a Senior Training Specialist role at his requested salary, with a classification title and job code of “Staff Training Specialist (65010) and a job grade of S5.13. Shortly after that, another black applicant applied for a training specialist position with a desired salary of “58K to 65K.” He was given the same job title, classification, code and grade as the other black employee.

The first black employee sued for race discrimination after he was terminated pursuant to a reduction in force. The trial court threw out his claims on summary judgment before trial because the black employee had received the job he wanted and more pay than he sought. (Hmm, that seems pretty logical, doesn’t it?)

On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit revived the employee’s claims. The Court noted that three similarly-qualified men were hired around the same time to perform jobs (Senior Training Specialist v. Staff Training Specialist) that had no meaningful differences, as revealed by a review of the job descriptions. Now the employee will be able to present his claims to a jury.

So the lesson here for employers is that giving an applicant the job and salary they want may not be enough. Although from a business perspective, it makes sense to pay employees an amount that they are willing to accept (and different employees will accept different amounts), it appears that the law is trending differently. There is a heightened attention to pay equity issues at the federal and state level – for example, California recently passed a pay equity law, and President Obama has issued several Executive Orders on pay transparency applicable to government contractors. In light of this trend, it would be wise for employers to review hires (and incumbents) to ensure that similarly-qualified employees performing similar job functions are being compensated at a similar rate!