Published on:

An Employer’s Argument of ‘Payroll Error’ Wasn’t Enough to Stop a New Jersey Woman’s Unequal Pay Claim

We all want to be paid what we’re worth as demonstrated by the quality of our work output. Too many women, however, have lived experiences on the job that fell short of that lofty goal. If you are someone who has been harmed by a gender-based pay gap at your place of employment, both federal law and state law may offer potential relief. Talk to an experienced New Jersey equal pay lawyer to find out more regarding what steps you can take.

S.S. was a woman who worked as a sales manager for an Atlantic City resort. She also was someone who allegedly encountered gender-based unequal pay.

In 2020, the woman applied for the role of “Selling Manager.” The selling manager position had only been created two years prior, and the resort’s only previous selling manager had been a man. That man, T.M., had been paid both a salary and commissions. The resort selected S.S. and another woman to be its new selling managers, but neither received a base salary as part of their compensation packages. Additionally, neither woman received a specific type of commission (called a “takeover” commission) that the male selling manager had received, and neither had as many team members as the man had.

S.S. sued, arguing she was the victim of gender-based unequal pay in violation of the New Jersey Equal Pay Act.

When you are seeking to recover damages under an NJEPA claim, you bear the initial burden of proof. Before your case can go any further, you have to demonstrate discrimination to the court “by showing that ‘employees of the opposite sex were paid differently for performing ‘equal work’- work of substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, under similar working conditions.’”

S.S.’s case was sufficient to satisfy that requirement. The basis of her case was comparing and contrasting her pay to that of T.M. Both S.S. and T.M. held the same roles – selling managers – which necessarily established that they had both done work of equal skill, effort, and responsibility. Furthermore, she established that she and T.M. did not receive equal pay as he received a salary and she did not. Even though the employer alleged that the man’s receipt of a base salary was the result of a “payroll error,” that assertion did not alter the reality that T.M. received “differential pay.”

On top of those facts, the woman also alleged that, when she applied for the selling manager job, the job posting stated that the position was a salaried job. This further strengthened her prima facie case of unequal pay in violation of the law.

Four Defenses to an Equal Pay Claim

Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, the burden shifts to your employer. Your employer can still defeat your claim if it can show that one or more of four affirmative defenses applied to its situation. Those four are: “(i) a bona fide seniority system, (ii) a merit system, (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (iv) a differential based on any factor other than sex.”

The employer’s proof must be so strong “that no rational jury could find to the contrary.’” S.S.’s employer didn’t have that. It argued that the payment of the salary to the man was an error and so was the part of the job listing that said the role was a salaried one. However, as the court noted, the employer provided no evidence as to when it “corrected” the error, when (or if) the employer ever stopped paying a salary to the man (prior to his leaving the company,) or if the employer ever sought to recover the wrongfully paid salary from the man. On that basis, the court decided that “a reasonable jury could infer either that Defendant’s business practices are lacking, resulting in the payment of salaries that are not owed, or the payment of the salary to” was never an error at all, but an intentional decision to pay the man compensation it did not pay S.S.

Given the proof the two sides did (and didn’t) have, the employer wasn’t entitled to summary judgment, and the woman was entitled to take her case before a jury.

If you’ve experienced gender discrimination at work – whether in the form of unequal pay or some other type of illegal conduct – don’t hesitate to fight back. The knowledgeable New Jersey gender discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you to take on your employer and get the compensation to which you are entitled. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

Contact Information