Houston Chronicle Sunday
Unfair or unlawful? Only a lawyer knows
Q: I notified my employer of my future plans to leave a key position, so upper management began to look for my replacement, as it will take quite some time for the person to learn everything. The new hire is younger than I am, but I was told he would be making less than I did. He has started, and we have an excellent work relationship.
I also have a great relationship with my supervisor, but I accidentally found out this new hire is making a significant amount more than I was told. When I discovered the difference, I told one of my bosses what I knew, and then I remained quiet. I am upset but would not want to sue my employer. I do wonder, though, if this would fall under age and gender discrimination.
A: You have a right to feel betrayed by management for this. Though you are not interested in filing a lawsuit, it may give you peace of mind to consult an attorney in such a situation, as they know every question to ask to determine your options. It might also help to calm you down if you learn that your situation may not be as legally compelling as it is morally compelling.
“An important fact to accept is that we live in a capitalist society and our laws are structured for optimal business flexibility.
Generally, barring some civil rights issue, employees work at the pleasure of their employer in terms of salary, benefits and the like,” said Patrick J. Boyd of the Boyd Law Group PLLC, a law firm with offices in New York, Connecticut and Texas. Boyd, a named “super lawyer” in the field of employment law since 2014, added: “If a younger person or a poorer performer earns more than you earn, that may be considered unfair, but it is not unlawful. Anyone would object to a new and younger employee whom you must train earning more than you. But your employer lying to you about the new hire’s salary makes matters feel worse. You can ask for an immediate pay increase as a result of the new information, but your employer is not required to honor or even consider your request.”
Whether this could be an age and gender discrimination is a legal question requiring a thorough legal review. According to Boyd: “Such forms of discrimination are generally evaluated by the severity or the volume of evidence where discrimination is the rationale for the unfair treatment. If there were ageist or sexist comments in the workplace, then you would have a stronger claim. A discrimination claim might also be more powerful if many younger employees were being hired and older workers were being let go. Further, if your employer said they would pay the new hire less just to avoid the difficult conversation with you, you would have caught them in a lie, but you would not have a legal claim just because the company made an unethical decision.”
What may seem unlawful to a person outside the legal profession can often cross the line of unethical or amoral, but that is where the issue stops. This is why it is best to consult an attorney who practices in labor and employment law to evaluate and potentially settle your concern.
This may be the perfect time for you to negotiate a favorable severance contract to cover this new period of employment and training they wish you to engage in for a smooth transition. Because the company is counting on you to fully train the new hire, this gives you the upper hand, which you may never have realized before.
Sometimes, your best revenge is to leave your job and find another employer where you are valued. The problem, of course, is that you have put many years into your position with your current employer — so this may not be the best time to start a new job. On the other hand, despite the possibility of experiencing age discrimination from an interviewing company, your expertise in a specific field may be exactly what a new company seeks.
When the final time comes to leave the company, Boyd suggests you have an honest and polite conversation with your bosses before you leave; this is also known as an exit interview. It is not legally required, but it would be a courteous and respectable response to what has taken place to show your employer you have the better set of core values and manners.
You might even consider this experience of betrayal and unfairness as a blessing — one that will make leaving the company a great deal easier for you emotionally than if they had not treated you unfairly. But paying the person more also could have been an innocent decision motivated by concern of your notice to leave a key position. Whichever it is, it is one of life’s lessons that no matter how well you think you know a person, you really never know how a person will act until they are in that exact situation.
Q: I am planning to go to graduate school next year, and I have many decisions to make. I have met many people who regret not making the right decision for a degree, and I don’t want to end up in that group. I am certain I want to pursue either a marketing degree or an MBA, so I met with a professional coach for guidance. He informed me that if I want to attend a top-10 university for an MBA, I had to work in a business for around four or five years. He said the typical schools don’t have those requirements.
Then there is the difference in tuition of programs, and of course, the top schools are more expensive. Graduate marketing programs don’t have that work requirement, even at top-10 schools, but I see myself in a position of leadership. Which do you suggest I do? I know you can’t guarantee it will be the right choice for me, but I’d like to know how to make such decisions.
A: It sounds like your parents or school advisers have prepared you well in advance, which is important for making the right choice. Thinking out loud with advisers gives you time to collect and digest as much information as you need to consider your feelings about each pro and con. Planning allows you time to change your mind so you will be less likely to make a mistake.
Spontaneous decisions can be fun for choosing a restaurant, a bar or an activity. Whether you have Cajun seafood or barbecue for dinner won’t determine your future. Whether you swim, play tennis or attend an art class won’t affect your life in the long run. Spending $30,000 to $50,000 a year for a full-time graduate school program will. The question, then, is whether the program was worth it. If you dislike working in the field, the mistake could come with a heavy consequence, such as repaying your school loan.
If you are no longer enthusiastic about business, you could then be torn between leaving the program and losing the money paid, or pushing to finish the program and disliking the work. Neither are positive. For example, 20% of the 2010 law school graduates did not practice law. Most have substantial debt.
This next comparison will likely be your deciding factor on whether attending a top-10 university MBA program is worth it. MBA graduates from the 12 highest-ranking programs (according to 2021 U.S. News Best Business Schools) made, on average, a salary and bonus of $173,860. Among the 129 full-time MBA programs, the average salary and bonus paid was $106,757. MBA students from the bottomranked programs, however, made $52,720 annually.
If you envision yourself in a leadership position in life, and if you can gain admittance into one of the top 12 MBA programs, the annual salary may be enough to make your final decision. Choosing to attend one of the 129 full-time MBA programs isn’t a bad second choice either. If, on the other hand, you can only attend a bottom-ranked program due to the lower tuition or easy admittance, you may want to consider a field you know you will be passionate about once you work in it.