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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Justice Department Files Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education

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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education, alleging that the board discriminated against pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary School by subjecting them to adverse personnel actions, including termination in some instances, after they announced their pregnancies. According to the complaint, these adverse personnel actions were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. The statute explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating against female employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that, starting in 2009, the principal at Scammon subjected female teachers to lower performance evaluations, discipline, threatened termination and/or termination because of their pregnancies. The complaint further alleges that the board approved the firing of six recently pregnant teachers employed at Scammon and forced two other recently pregnant teachers to leave Scammon. The department’s complaint seeks a court order that would require the board to develop and implement policies that would prevent its employees from being subjected to discrimination due to their pregnancies. The relief sought also includes monetary damages as compensation for those teachers who were harmed by the alleged discrimination.

Two teachers who had been pregnant while working at Scammon filed charges of sex discrimination with the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigated the charges and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred against the two charging parties as well as against other pregnant teachers. The EEOC was unsuccessful in its attempts to conciliate the matter before referring it to the Department of Justice.

“No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division. “Federal law requires employers to maintain a workplace free of discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“Despite much progress, we continue to see the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices in the workplace,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang.

“The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination against pregnant employees,” said John P. Rowe, former District Director of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office. Rowe led the EEOC’s administrative investigation of the charges filed by the two teachers.

This lawsuit is brought by the Department of Justice as a result of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the EEOC and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for vigorous enforcement of Title VII.

More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the website of the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division (www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp/).

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information on the Civil Rights Division’s work is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/. Pregnancy discrimination, in particular, has been identified by the EEOC as a strategic enforcement priority, and earlier this year, the agency issued updated guidance, which is available at www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy_guidance.cfm

Appellate Court Overturns $4 Million Fee Award Against EEOC

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Eighth Circuit Says Lower Court Improperly Made “Universal Finding” that All of EEOC’s Claims Against CRST Trucking Company Were “Without Foundation”

CHICAGO – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an order Monday reversing a federal district court’s decision granting over $4 million in fees and costs to CRST Van Expedited Inc. (CRST), a trucking company, against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and remanding the case back to the lower court to “individually assess each of the claims” and “explain why it deems a particular claim to be frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.”

EEOC brought suit against the trucking company in 2007, (EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited Inc., 1:07-cv-00095-LRR, N.D. Iowa), alleging that CRST was responsible for severe and pervasive sexual harassment in its New-Driver Training Program, ultimately identifying over 150 individual victims of the alleged harassment for whom it was seeking relief. In a series of orders, the district court dismissed the claims of all of these women. EEOC appealed and the parties eventually settled the claim of one of the women alleging harassment. The district court then awarded the company fees and costs against EEOC, stating that CRST was the prevailing party with respect to the remaining 153 individual claimants.

In its 25-page order in the current appeal (No. 13-3159, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Cir.), the appellate court reversed some of the findings of the district court on which it had based its fee award. Specifically, the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court’s award of attorney’s fees based on a purported pattern-or-practice claim, holding that EEOC had made no such claim. The court also reversed the lower court’s award of fees relating to the dismissal of 67 claims based on the alleged failure of EEOC to satisfy its pre-suit obligations, holding that such dismissal does not constitute a ruling on the merits – necessary for justifying an award of attorney fees.

The appellate court then turned to the individual claims of the alleged victims. Instead of individually analyzing whether each of the 153 claims was “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless,” as required by controlling legal precedent, the lower court summarily found that all 153 claims satisfied this standard. The Eighth Circuit found this was error. More problematic, the appellate court found that the lower court included in its decision other claims for which the appellate court explicitly found earlier that CRST was not entitled to any fees (the pattern-or-practice claim and the 67 claims dismissed based on EEOC’s pre-suit obligations). The Eighth Circuit therefore remanded the case back to the district court to make individual assessments on the merits of each of the remaining claims.

David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC, said, “We view the 8th Circuit’s decision as a favorable one. The appellate court’s careful analysis reinforces long-standing principles of law, and the decision emphasizes that fees cannot be awarded against the EEOC absent particularized determinations that the claims pursued by the EEOC were frivolous. To us, that is a principle of absolutely critical importance, and we understand the court’s decision to turn upon that principle. The case is, of course, not over, and further proceedings lie ahead. We are encouraged that the 8th Circuit has again articulated the principle which will govern as we move forward.”

The EEOC’s Regional Attorney in Chicago, John Hendrickson, added, “As anyone who has followed the CRST litigation knows, the agency has absorbed its share of criticism about the case even though the proceedings were ongoing. Today’s decision illustrates the perils of rendering premature judgments and counsels a more measured approach.”

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Can My Employer Withhold My Last Paycheck if I Don’t Sign My Noncompete?

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Occasionally, employers will require employees to sign a non-compete contract during their employment. However, the one thing they cannot do is withhold your last paycheck if you fail to sign one. The Kentucky Wage and Hour statute says you can’t withhold an employee’s final paycheck for any reason. If a company does, they subject themselves to double liquidated damages (that means you can sue for double damages), plus attorney fees.

If you’re ever asked to sign any kind of document at work, you should take it home, read it thoroughly, and ask an attorney go read it as well. The document could be a non-coBig Officempete, severance agreement, or some other last chance agreement. These types of documents are usually written in large single spaced paragraphs with lots of provisions making them difficult to understand. You want to make sure they’re not trying to take away certain rights or benefits, so always read a document thoroughly. Often times, severance agreements will ask the employee to look over the document with an attorney, so you can approach your employer by saying your attorney suggested specific changes to a document.

If you’re actually in the process of being fired, there’s no need to rush to sign anything. (It’s not like they can fire you faster or harder.) Frequently, the reason terminated employees are asked to sign anything is for some sort of severance agreement where the employer wants the employee to waive their right to sue, in exchange for either being paid some amount of money or agreeing not to fight an unemployment claim.

If you’re handed any sort of document at work and are asked to sign it, always read it over thoroughly. Make sure you’re not signing away important rights or benefits. Ask an attorney for help when necessary. It can be difficult to approach your employer with your concerns, especially if you’re being let go.

If you feel you’ve been unfairly treated by your employer, or given a document to sign that you’re unsure of, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100 to see how we can help.

Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Sony to Pay $85,000 under Decree Resolving EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

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Electronics Giant Allegedly Engineered Firing of Employee Because of Her Prosthetic Leg

CHICAGO – Sony Electronics, Inc. will pay $85,000 under a consent decree entered in federal court today ending a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that Sony violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it brought about the termination of a woman with a prosthetic leg because of her disability.

The employee had been sent by Staffmark Investment LLC, a staffing agency, to inspect Sony televisions on a temporary basis at a facility located in Romeoville, Ill. According to the EEOC, on the employee’s second day on the job, a Staffmark employee approached and removed the employee from the worksite, explaining that there were concerns she would be bumped into or knocked down.

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC Acting Chicago District Director who managed the agency’s investigation, said, “We found that although the employee’s removal was executed by Staffmark employees, it was actually prompted by a request from Sony’s management which made Sony complicit in the discrimination.”

The EEOC filed suit against both Staffmark and Sony. The case against Staffmark ended in a consent decree entered June 25, 2013 under which Staffmark paid $100,000 to the employee.

The consent decree, entered today by U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel of the Northern District of Illinois, ends the EEOC’s lawsuit against Sony and provides an additional $85,000 in monetary relief to the victim. The decree also requires Sony to report all employee complaints of disability discrimination to the EEOC for the next two years. Sony must also train certain of its managerial and supervisory employees on the laws pertaining to employment discrimination, including the ADA. The decree also specifically provides that Sony cannot require the employee to keep the facts underlying the case confidential, waive her rights to file charges of discrimination with a government agency, or refrain from applying for work with Sony or any of its clients.

John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, said, “The ADA provides robust employee protections, even for short-term temporary workers hired through staffing agencies. Smart employers will learn from this case that they cannot insulate themselves from liability for discrimination by acting through employment and staffing agencies. That’s axiomatic under the civil rights laws we enforce-if you can’t do it directly, you can’t do it through someone else.”

EEOC filed the case, EEOC v. Staffmark Investment LLC and Sony Electronics, Inc., No. 12-cv-9628, on Dec. 4, 2012, after first attempting to reach a negotiated settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. EEOC Trial Attorneys Ann Henry and Brad Fiorito, and Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason, litigated the case on behalf of the government.

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Bright Petroleum, Inc. Shareholders/Officers to Pay $15,000 to Settle EEOC Retaliation Suit

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Food Market Terminated Manager Who Filed Discrimination Charge, Federal Agency Charged

INDIANAPOLIS – Two shareholders/officers of the dissolved corporation Bright Petroleum Inc. d/b/a The Bright Market, will pay $15,000 to a former employee and provide other relief to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit (4:13-CV-205-SEB-WGH), filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division, Bright Petroleum, Inc. terminated Deli Manager Michelle Bunte in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Bright Petroleum, Inc. is the former owner/operator of The Bright Market, a food market and gas station located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Retaliation for complaining about or reporting sex discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after unsuccessful attempts to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The consent decree settling the suit states Bunte will be paid $15,000, and Bright Market will be subject to penalties for late payments. Former shareholders/officers of Bright Petroleum, Inc., June and Jay Tucker, will be prohibited from engaging in any further retaliation against employees who exercise their rights to complain about discrimination or assist in an investigation or discrimination-related proceeding for any businesses which the Tuckers own, operate or manage. All references to Bunte’s charge and participation in the lawsuit will be removed from her personnel file and not shared with prospective employers of Bunte. Bunte will also be given a signed letter of reference. The Tuckers will report to the EEOC for a three-year period, detailing their compliance with the decree.

“Employers play with fire when they retaliate against an employee who complains of discrimination,” said EEOC Indianapolis Regional Attorney Laurie A. Young. Indianapolis District Director Webster Smith agreed and said he was pleased the EEOC charge process resulted in solving the alleged retaliation, despite the fact the charged corporation dissolved in 2013.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

Bank of America to Pay $110,000 to Resolve EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

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CHICAGO – Bank of America will pay $110,000 to a former temporary worker and provide other equitable relief under a consent decree resolving a disability discrimination case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC alleged that Bank of America failed to accommodate a visually impaired data entry worker and instead terminated his temporary assignment at one of the bank’s branches in downtown Chicago after one day on the job.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. This can include making adjustments or modifications in the workplace that enable an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his job. For example, an employer may be required to provide screen magnifying software that would enable an employee with a visual impairment to perform essential computer work. Questions and answers about blindness, visual impairments and the ADA are available on the EEOC’s website.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Bank of America, N.A., Civil Action No. 11-cv-6378, September 13, 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur entered the decree resolving the suit December 18. In addition to monetary relief for the former employee, the decree includes an injunction requiring the bank provide reasonable accommodations to temporary and contingent workers at its branches throughout Illinois, provides for training about the ADA’s requirements and imposes recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the duration of the decree.

“Of the millions of working-age Americans with vision loss, research has shown that fewer than half are employed, An employer of the size and sophistication of Bank of America, which employs an enormous number of people working at computer terminals, ought to be a national leader in employing individuals with disabilities, including vision loss, and a leader in ADA compliance generally,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC Chicago district regional attorney. “We’re optimistic that this consent decree is going to prompt that kind of progress at Bank of America, not only because it’s the law, but also because it’s the right thing to do.”

The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Lawler Foods Refused to Hire Non-Hispanics EEOC Charges in Discrimination Suit

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Bakery’s Word-of-Mouth Hiring and Ads Stating a Preference for Spanish Speakers Also Discriminatory, Federal Agency Says

HOUSTON – Lawler Foods, Inc. and Lawler Foods, Ltd., a Houston-area production bakery, violated federal law by engaging in a pattern or practice of failing to hire black and non-Hispanic applicants for entry-level positions in its facility, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed December 16, 2014.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Lawler Foods has been discriminating in its hiring since at least 2007. The EEOC’s suit alleges that African-American and non-Hispanic applicants have been told that they would not be hired because they were not Hispanic or could not speak Spanish. Some non-Hispanic applicants were treated rudely and waited to be interviewed to no avail, while Hispanic applicants were interviewed. Evidence also showed that non-Hispanic applicants generally had more relevant working experience and education than the Hispanic applicants Lawler hired. The lawsuit also alleges that Lawler Foods relied on word-of-mouth hiring and advertised a preference for Spanish-speaking applicants, practices that the EEOC alleges had a discriminatory impact on black and non-Hispanic applicants. The EEOC’s administrative investigation culminated in findings of class-wide hiring discrimination based on statistical and anecdotal evidence.

Lawler Foods’ alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits intentional discrimination based on race and national origin, and also prohibits using employment practices that have a disparate impact on based on race or national origin. The EEOC filed suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-03588), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Lawler Foods from engaging in race and national origin discrimination. The suit also seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the discrimination victims and other relief, including implementing fair recruitment and hiring procedures, and rightful-place hiring of mistreated job applicants.

“Using an employment practice that has the effect of excluding people on the basis of race or national origin is unlawful under the laws we enforce,” said Martin Ebel, acting director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office.

EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, “Assuring fair access to job opportunities continues to be a high priority for the EEOC’s litigation program. We stand for fair hiring, and will fight any practice that discriminates against any race or national origin, regardless of who benefits.”

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

Individuals who believe they may have been denied a position at Lawler Foods because of their race or national origin or who have any information that would be helpful to the EEOC’s suit against the company should contact the EEOC at (713) 651-4970.

According to its website, www.lawlers.com, Lawler Foods produces desserts for businesses in the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information is available on the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

The EEOC’s Houston District Office is located on the sixth floor of the Total Building at 1201 Louisiana Avenue in Houston.

Can My Employer Require Me To Sign a Non-Compete Contract?

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For many new employees, one of the first documents they’re asked to sign is a non-compete contract, promising not to work for a competitor for a specified length of time. But the company is free to require an employee to sign the non-compete at any time during their employment, even if the employee has been there for several years. It’s completely legal, and it can be a condition of employment at the company.

I Like a Little Competition, J.P. Morgan cartoonThere are instances where a non-compete contract can be challengeable in a court of law however. If a company asks a single employee to sign a non-compete with the intention of firing them right afterward without informing the employee, this could be considered fraudulent abuse. It is a questionable case involving misrepresentation, and should be discussed with an employment law attorney. However, if management had everyone at the company sign one and then fire people shortly after, the non-compete would still be enforceable.

Non-compete contracts do have limitations though. A non-compete contract involves two aspects: time and geographic location. Most non-competes last six months to one year. Two years would probably be considered the longest acceptable duration. A four or five year non-compete could easily be fought in a court of law, and past cases have resulted in something called a blue pencil revision, where a judge can literally take a blue pencil and scratch out the five year time, and pencil in two years.

When it comes to geography, 50 – 100 miles of the company’s location is considered reasonable, although technology is shrinking the world and making competition global. Given this, I think a worldwide non-compete contract may one day be considered reasonable.

In the meantime, if you’ve been asked to sign a non-compete that you believe is too long or too restrictive, you may want to speak with an employment attorney. For more information, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

Photo credit: Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

EEOC and Sherman Howard L.L.C. Conciliate Sexual and Gender Discrimination Charge

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Firm Implemented Remedial Measures When Allegations Came To Light

DENVER – A former assistant in one of the offices of the regional law firm of Sherman & Howard L.L.C. filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Denver Field Office. The charge contained allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

The firm undertook an internal investigation and implemented remedial measures when the allegations came to light. Upon receipt of the charge, the EEOC conducted a separate investigation and determined that a violation of Title VII occurred. The firm cooperated with the EEOC investigation fully. The firm has denied any wrongdoing or liability, but has agreed to an end relief that has been allocated to back pay and compensatory damages at the request of the charging party. The firm has also agreed to continue its recurring sexual harassment training to its workforce.

The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov

What You Should Know: Questions and Answers About the Equal Pay Act

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Background

EEOC enforces the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA prohibits pay discrimination based on sex, but it is limited to pay discrimination between employees who are performing the same job at the same location.

1. Do women and men have to be performing identical jobs for the EPA to apply?

No. The EPA does not require that the jobs be identical. The following requirements apply:
•a significant portion of the job tasks are the same for the positions being compared;
•the two jobs involve similar levels of skill, which means similar levels of experience, ability, education, and training;
•the two jobs involve similar levels of mental and physical exertion;
•the two jobs involve similar levels of responsibility or accountability; and
•the two jobs are performed under similar working conditions.

2. Do the two individuals have to be working in the same place?

Generally, yes. However, workers at different worksites sometimes may be compared if the same managers oversee the operations of both locations and workers frequently transfer between the two locations.

3. If I’m being paid less than someone of the opposite sex who is doing the same job as me at the same location, does that mean that my employer is violating the EPA?

Not necessarily. Under limited circumstances, an employer is permitted to pay someone of the opposite sex more, even though he or she is performing the same job. To justify the higher pay, the employer would have to show that the higher pay is based on one of the following:
•a seniority system that rewards employees based on length of employment;
•a merit system that rewards employees for exceptional job performance;
•an incentive system that pays employees based on the quality of their work or the amount of work they perform; or
•another factor related to job performance or business operations, such as paying a shift differential to workers on less popular shifts.

4. What can I do if I believe my employer has violated the EPA?

If you believe that your employer has violated the EPA, you can either file a charge with the EEOC or you can file a lawsuit in court. Under the EPA, you are generally required to file your lawsuit within two years of when you received the discriminatory pay. You should be aware that filing a charge with the EEOC does not extend your two-year time frame for filing an EPA lawsuit.

5. Do other laws also prohibit pay discrimination?

Yes, all of the laws enforced by the EEOC prohibit pay discrimination. Pay discrimination based on sex is also prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination in compensation and other terms and conditions of employment, so it is broader than the EPA. Title VII also prohibits discrimination in compensation or other aspects of employment based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibit discrimination in compensation or other aspects of employment based on age (40 or over), disability, or genetic information.

6. Where can I find more information about pay discrimination?

Several documents on EEOC’s website provide background information on the EPA and other EEO laws prohibiting pay discrimination:
•EEOC Compliance Manual Section on Compensation Discrimination: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/compensation.html
•Questions and Answers: Compliance Manual Section on Compensation Discrimination: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda-compensation.html