- An employee who was terminated for stealing personnel documents was not able to prove her unequal pay and retaliation claims (O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company, LLC, No. 18-1826 (7th Cir. Aug. 14, 2019)).
- The employee was being paid less than her male peers and believed the disparity was the result of sex discrimination. She shared a desk with her supervisor, where she found copies of some of her colleagues' performance evaluations. She took them, made copies, and prepared to submit them to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When the employer discovered that the employee took the documents without authorization, it suspended and eventually fired her.
- The employee filed suit in a U.S. District Court. At trial, a jury returned a verdict for the employer. The employee appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment of the district court.
Although the employer prevailed in this case, it presents a good reminder about the importance of secure recordkeeping procedures. To prevent sensitive employee files from being accessed by unauthorized persons, an employer may want to avoid keeping those documents in an unlocked or communal space like a shared desk.
The case highlights the importance of fair pay procedures and conducting internal audits to detect potentially illegal pay discrepancies based on sex or other protected characteristics. Experts have told HR Dive that good audits review compensation practices using comprehensive data including age, job information and productivity information, among other components. Employers might also work with managers to ensure that raises and other pay-related decisions are unbiased and to keep employees informed about how wages are calculated.
Additionally, a number of states, cities and localities have aimed to tackle pay discrepancies through laws like salary history question bans. Advocates of the laws have said they can help women and people of color overcome historic disparities in their pay that might otherwise be perpetuated. Many employers, including Amazon, are taking proactive steps to adopt this practice internally.