my manager told me that my male coworkers earn $40-60K more than I do

A reader writes:

Last week I accepted a job offer with a new company, where my base salary will be 50% more than I currently make. This is a huge pay increase! And it is also an exciting opportunity!

I told my current manager the news today. To my great surprise, not only did they ask what they could do to keep me on, but they also told me that they have noticed my salary seems very low, and that they have been working behind the scenes to try to move my salary closer to that of my colleagues who perform at a similar level. Apparently, if I was being paid the same as my colleagues, I would already be making the amount of money that the new job is offering me.

For context, I am a woman in a technical field, and all of my peers (except one) are male. I have suspected for a while that I am being underpaid, but I was surprised to realize just how huge that pay gap is. To put some numbers to it, we are talking about a salary difference of $40-$60K.

I appreciate how candid my manager was in telling me this information. They also said they are going to do everything they can in the next few days to get approval to bump my pay to match what the new company has offered. This is very flattering, but I’m not holding my breath.

I think it would truly be exceptional if my company does end up matching the new offer. But just as a thought exercise, what if they do come back with a higher offer? I would think it so unusual, that maybe I should consider staying (after all, they clearly value my work). At the same time, I feel disappointed to know that they noticed a huge pay gap and chose to do nothing about it until I decided to leave.

What would you do in this situation? More importantly, how would you talk about this to other women in the company and in the industry? The company has a lot of surface level equity and inclusion initiatives, and they even have a group to focus on women’s issues, but all that rings so hollow to me now.

Don’t take that counteroffer from your current company.

This is a company that was paying you less than your male coworkers by $40-$60K. That is a huge pay discrepancy. It’s also an illegal pay discrepancy.

If you’re doing basically the same work as those male coworkers, getting paid a significantly different salary violates the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963. (The law does make exceptions if the employer can prove they’re paying someone more due to seniority or a merit system.) You don’t need to prove that your employer intended to discriminate against women, just that men and women are in fact being paid differently for the same work.

It’s awfully convenient for them to say that they only just happened to notice, care, and be acting to fix it right when you’re about to leave.

It also raises this question: Even if they do come back with an offer to raise your salary by that much, what are they going to do about all the lost wages from the period where you were working for tens of thousands of dollars less than they should have been paying you? It is very unlikely that they’re going to offer you a lump sum to fix that retroactively, so you’ll still be out tens of thousands of dollars that they were illegally not paying you.

Your manager says they’ve been “working behind the scenes” and “trying to get approval” to follow the law.

That is not a company you should agree to stay at when you have a different offer you’re excited about.

And that’s all on top of the other reasons you generally shouldn’t accept a counteroffer — like that the next time you want a raise, you’re likely to be told “but we just gave you that huge increase when you were thinking about leaving” … and it shouldn’t take you being about to leave for them to pay you fairly … etc. etc. etc.

But mostly, this is a company that was content to cheat you out of $40-$60K a year and even now is only “trying” to fix that.

Leave and tell them why you’re leaving. Cite the Equal Pay Act. Tell other women there. Tell the women’s issues group there. Tell the men. Tell everyone. You have every right to talk about the pay discrimination you discovered (literally, you’re protected by federal law in talking about this) and you could do a great deal of good by shining light on this for other women still employed there.

{ 375 comments… read them below }

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      This is a time to involve a private attorney, who can advise LW on next steps (after she takes the new job, of course). That person may be able to negotiate a decent settlement for the back pay she should have received.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Absolutely if she has the bandwidth for that. Any communication related to pay should be forwarded to her personal email immediately.

      That being said, no shame for OP if they just are tired of the BS and want to just move on. Sometime it’s just too much work to try to fight. People do have lives.

      1. Former HR Professional*

        Agree that she should get copies of any communication related to pay, now or in the past, TODAY. E-mail them to herself, print them, carry out hard copies –whatever it takes. Hire an attorney who specializes in employment and/or EEO law. She might have to pay up front for a brief consultation but, if there is a case, the attorney will probably take it on a contingent basis. (If there are other women affected, they can become part of the suit.) There is like a substantial financial payment to the OP if she wins or settles out of court. The employer may also be subject to a hefty fine.

          1. Fluttervale*

            If it was, the manager did this on purpose. The manager may be trying to get someone to force the company’s hand.

        1. Pursue thid*

          She should consult with an attorney. Usually the initial consultation is free. Many lawyers also work with if they win, they get a cut. If not, no charge.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Definitely provide a packet of all relevant information to the wage/hours folks at your Dept of Labor. They will conduct the investigation on your behalf and you can move on with your life. If they make a determination, they’ll also handle making sure that you get reparations you deserve.
      In the meantime, join up with the people who value you from the start.

      THEY KNEW HOW MUCH THEY WERE PAYING THE BOYS. You don’t need to feel bad about this at all.

    4. Lizzianna*

      Not a Labor/Employment lawyer, but I do know the EEOC has strict timelines once you have notice of the pay discrimination. I would talk to a lawyer sooner than later if you think there is a chance you want to pursue this to make sure you’re preserving your rights.

    5. Happened to Me*

      She should first check to see if her city / state has a Civil Rights office. Should they find merit (and since OP’s employer was dumb enough to admit this, they will) the office will launch an investigation at no cost to the filer.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Yep, and the employer won’t be able to block/drag out that group’s access to pay information as easily as they could OP in a regular civil suit.

    6. SnappinTerrapin*

      Talk to a civil rights oriented employment lawyer asap. As noted, Title VII has strict time limits. Take the new job and pursue appropriate remedies for past harm.

      And let your colleagues in on their right to seek compensation, on your way out the door.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I would definitely think so or talk to a lawyer, because that huge a discrepancy between what all the men are getting paid an what the only woman is getting paid is hard to explain away as anything other than discrimination and violation of the Equal Pay Act. Usually the gap is not that significant and there are some men in the mix who don’t make as much, etc., making it less obvious and allowing the employer to argue about differences in the actual work or merit systems or whatnot. But those little nuanced nonsense arguments probably will not hold up in this situation.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Oh, they do “value” it. I’m sure they appreciate the OP’s good work. They just don’t value it in terms of, you know, *money*.


        1. HotSauce*

          I literally had a (male) boss tell me that once. “It’s not like you’re the breadwinner, anything you make is extra”. What a tool.

          1. Ann Ominous*

            I would be so busy picking my jaw up off the floor that I don’t know if I would be able to then use it to form words or not.

            How on earth did you respond?

          2. Veryanon*

            I had a (male) boss tell me that too. When I talk to younger people now about whether they want to stay in the workforce after they start a family, I always, always point out that it’s so crucial to keep working, even if it’s part time, because you just never know what might happen to the “breadwinning” spouse – they could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or you might get divorced, or they might lose their job, or or or. Keep your skills sharp and stay active in your field.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Or, you know, the other partner might make more, but two incomes are needed to keep the household afloat. The person who makes more may well still not be making enough for the family to live on, and this has been true for the entirety of my adulthood – and probably his. Women haven’t been working “for pin money”, or for the extras, for a very very long time.

              1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

                Ever. Women haven’t done that EVER. Certainly not women at the lower end of the economic range.

                It was entirely an artifact of the 1950s that women were supposed to stay home and not work in the middle class. Otherwise they worked – often in family businesses, so they didn’t earn their OWN money but still had a full time job plus kids …..

                1. Ellie*

                  Yep. My great grandmother used to clean houses and cook meals, because her husband drank whatever he earned. My great grandmother on my other side was a nurse, worked all her life, on top of raising three children. All the women in my family worked, I don’t know where this ‘pin money’ thing comes from but I suspect it was to protect the husband’s ego.

                2. GlitterIsEverything*

                  My grandmother did the books for the family business for years. Her mother was the town seamstress.

                  Women in the workforce are nowhere near as new as people would like you to believe.

                3. PlainJane*

                  Exactly. This business about how women didn’t work before is just plain not true. I’m a genealogist. I spend a lot of time trawling through census records. Women worked on family farms, ran shops and boarding houses, and yes, worked in workaday jobs. My own great-great-grandmother owned a bar and some rental houses, and my great-grandmother was a lab tech. And no, they weren’t doing it for fun. (My g-g-grandfather apparently thought the bar was for fun. His wife set him straight on the matter.)

                  I really wish people would stop spreading this story about how rare it was for women to work before the 1970s. It wasn’t. (In fact, the date keeps getting moved up. I actually heard someone marvel that there were women working way back in the NINETIES. NINETEEN-NINETIES.)

            2. irene adler*

              My Dad made that observation (crucial to keep working-esp. if the breadwinner becomes incapacitated at some point) and always supported my mom with her career & in the pursuit of advanced education too.
              This was 40 years ago when he observed how hard it was for women, who’d taken a break in their careers, to advance. He didn’t think that was fair at all.

            3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              oooh yes. In my first proper job, I was responsible for helping people learn to type on new-fangled machines (back in the 80s we couldn’t call them computers because people would say “oh no I can’t operate a computer”). There was one poor lady, in her 50s, trying desperately to master the keyboard so she could work for the first time in her life, after her husband split with the sexy secretary, leaving her to deal with his huge debuts and bankrupt business. The boss felt so sorry for her, he let her come for as long as she wanted, because she was so nervous she hadn’t learned a thing in the 20 hrs she’d paid for (most people were proficient typists after that time).
              Watching her tremble as she tried to remember where to place her fingers, I vowed to never let myself get into such a position, to always make sure I was financially independent.

          3. Generic Name*

            I’m sure his head would explode if he knew that I, a woman, an the primary breadwinner and make more than twice what my husband makes.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              My husband once had a boss that was *flummoxed* and literally asked my husband if he was “okay with the situation” and if he wanted a raise because it was offhandedly mentioned that I make more than he does. Hubs’ response was “she’s incredibly qualified, has twice the schooling I do, and works in compliance – of course she makes more!”

              I, uh, did not like that boss of his to begin with and liked him even less afterwards.

              1. No Longer Looking*

                With apologies to the Ghostbusters, “If your boss asks if you want a raise, YOU SAY YES!” :)

              2. Tracy Flick*

                Yeah, I give your husband an A++ for Allyship and a Gentleman’s C for Cold-Blooded Calculation

                1. Snell*

                  ?? The commenter’s husband was offered a raise, not the commenter. Weirdo sexist boss offered a raise so that his employee would be making more than the wife.

              3. Bob-White of the Glen*

                “Oh yes, I need a raise to be able to look my wife in the eye.”

                “Hey boss, she just got another $5,000 raise, how do we put that into payroll so I don’t fall behind her?”

                “Oh wow boss, wife’s company just gave out $12,000 bonuses, but it’s just a one-time. When can I pick up my check?”

                Would go a long way towards making the boss more bearable. :D

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Same, and a primary reason I have not shared any of my promotions at work with my mother for well over a decade is that she is obsessed with my not “emasculating” my spouse or “rubbing it in his face” that I earn more. She actually suggested having my employer deposit a little less than his salary and then “sneaking” the rest of the money into the account little by little, so he “wouldn’t know”. (Spouse: “So, she thinks I’m insecure AND dumb?”)

              I get that she’s projecting how her ex-husband would have felt onto my husband, but, it’s… a lot.

            3. J. Jonah Jameson*

              My wife makes about 50% more than I do, so if one of us is the primary breadwinner, it’s definitely her.

            4. Phryne*

              My SIL makes more than my brother. She does something incredibly specialised she spend years and years training for, my brother didn’t finish college. Of course she makes more. They both are totally 100% fine with that, because why wouldn’t they be.
              Her BIL on the other side though is in politics for a ultra conservative party that thinks women should be in the kitchen and is (unsurprisingly) xenophobic to boot, so this individual is very angry about her not only marrying a foreigner, but one that earns less than her to boot… Fortunately they don’t give a cr*p about what he thinks about it.

          4. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            Yep. Had a boss poke his head into my office apropos of NOTHING and say “Good morning! Isn’t it great you can earn a little money for your family today?” This was academia.

            1. ferrina*

              “Isn’t it great that your work is contingent on me being excellent at my job? So nice that you can play with your little spreadsheets today”

          5. Rd*

            I had a manager promote a teenager (It was a fast food job in my 20s just after getting married) over me because he “helps his parents with the bills.” We had the exact same seniority since it was a relatively new place and we all started at the same time. Oh. And I was pregnant.

          6. NotAnotherManager!*

            Flames. On. My. Face.

            The “pin money” subset of people was a blip on the radar in a very specific socioeconomic class in the mid-20th century or a thing for people so wealthy that they don’t actually need the income from a job to live. Most of us normal folks need every dollar we’re due to make ends meet, regardless of gender. The world has not been affordable on a single “breadwinner” for quite some time.

          7. Chirpy*

            And it’s awful for those women who are their own breadwinners. Nobody else is paying my rent, I need to get paid fairly.

          8. Mother of all Raccoons*

            My mom worked at a government medical research lab in the 80s before she married my dad (they actually met there!). Her boss one time straight up told her she wasn’t getting a raise because he only had enough budget to give one researcher a raise and “Tom has a wife and two kids”. My moms research was far superior – more publications, more widespread impact, well known in her area. She was livid.
            He tried to sabotage her career in other ways too but non relevant to this discussion

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        They value the work. They find it valuable to them. Doesn’t mean they want to pay for it when they thought they could just not, and did not stop them from grossly violating the law.

    2. The Original K.*

      Correct. They value it now because they’re about to lose it and it’s inconvenient for them. If OP didn’t have this offer, she’d never have seen – heard about! – that $40-$60K a year she was losing out on.

      1. PinkCandyfloss*

        They’re gonna have to pay at least that much + the pain/delay of onboarding to hire someone to replace her and they know it.

        1. JustaTech*

          We had a consultant of some stripe come out to do a workshop for my department (about grit, ugh) and she made an excellent point that, depending on how experienced a person is, it could cost up to 5 times their yearly salary to replace them (as a one-time cost).
          And therefore we should have a better company culture (which was the point of the workshop).

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Also, if they give her the raise, that means they likely ALWAYS could have paid her that salary and weren’t doing it. It wasn’t a budget problem, it was a resistance problem.

    3. EPLawyer*

      They value the fact they can get good work out of you cheap. They are losing that “value” so suddenly want you to stay.

      Take the offer and enjoy getting paid your actual worth.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yep. And since hiring new staff always costs money, now they’re crunching numbers & deciding that a little pay equity is cheaper than dealing with that.

      2. The OTHER Other*

        Yes, it’s amazing how raises etc are just not possible, yet when someone leaves somehow the budget for a new hire appears. Sometimes MULTIPLE hires.

        Color me skeptical about whether this manager’s “behind the scenes” work to get her a raise actually happened.

        1. Todaloo*

          At my last job there was no money for raises (despite the fact we had fired someone, moved to a building that was 40% less per month, and we’re bringing in obnoxiously large contracts. When I quit they had to replace me with 2 people and had to pay them both a higher base salary. It literally cost them 2x as much to replace me, with people who had less qualifications or experience. It made no sense.

      3. ferrina*

        This. They know that they’ve been paying you waaaaaay less than your worth, because they have people doing the same thing for way more money. They just like paying you less because it’s money into their pocket. And now that they you have the audacity (/s) to want to get paid fairly, they might* be able to get you fair pay.

        They already showed that they don’t value you and are willing to undervalue you. This won’t go away, so you should.

    4. Hlao-roo*

      Yes to this! OP, right after “they clearly value my work,” you wrote

      they noticed a huge pay gap and chose to do nothing about it until I decided to leave.

      That is how much they value your work: $40k – $60k less than your male coworkers until you decide to leave. So leave and go to the company that values you at your market worth from day one.

    5. Elenna*

      Oh, they value her work. Just not enough to, y’know, pay her fairly for that work. At least not until they might lose it.

      1. Petty Betty*

        “Well, if you stay, we’ll work on paying you closer to what your MALE colleagues make!”

        That’s not value. That’s still telling you, loud and proud, that they don’t value you as much as the men in the office and that you aren’t going to be making the same, nor will they compensate you for undervaluing your contributions for as long as they have been.

        Walk away. If you’re feeling froggy, report them. They are choosing to act as if treating you fairly under the law is a favor to you rather than a requirement.

        1. Ellie*

          I wonder how much they would offer to one of the men if they left? OP should leave, but if she did want to stay, no way should she just accept parity.

    6. Observer*

      “(after all, they clearly value my work).”

      No, they don’t.


      If they actually valued your work, your supervisor would have been able to get the raise approved as soon as it was pointed out. So, if they do come back with a counter offer it is ONLY because someone convinced them that they could get their pants sued off.

      1. Artemesia*

        There is no way her manager has not been fully aware of the pay issue all along. When I managed a department, I had to sign off on salaries every raise season — I knew what everyone made. I noticed people who for various reasons were underpaid and I was sometimes able to get extraordinary equity raises (none of them actually involved women — sometimes for historic reasons, very valuable people end up underpaid).

        No one was working behind the scenes until you announced you were leaving.

        Accepting a counter offer here would be to agree to work with people who knowingly abused your trust.

        1. PinkCandyfloss*

          YEP. This is not something a manager just “notices” suddenly. The manager has known this ALL ALONG and instead of raising it with you, has been conveniently quietly “working behind the scenes” (no they have not) to address it (no they have not). The fact that your manager DID NOT TELL YOU THAT YOU WERE BEING UNDERPAID BY $40-60K until you were about to leave …. doesn’t make you raise an eyebrow? At all? Dump them all and good riddance.

          1. ferrina*

            This. Let’s assume that for some reason your manager hadn’t known it (I worked somewhere where I didn’t get to know the salary of my direct reports- that place was weird in so many ways). But then your manager suddenly found out. What would a good manager do?

            They would be livid. They would be advocating hard for you. They would have made you aware that you were underpaid (even as vague as “your salary is lower than what we usually see in this position, so I’m working to get that remedied”). A manager that cared would be actively encouraging you to go somewhere that knows your worth, not trying to get you to stay at a place that cheated you out of TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!!

            1. JustaTech*

              Yes to this!
              My team got a new manager a year or two after I started and he came to me during review/raise season, horrified at my salary and (in retrospect) worried that I would leave. So he got me a big pay bump.
              Now, I was underpaid because I was coming from academia and I didn’t negotiate, but I’m willing to bet that having a woman be paid less than a guy with less experience who started just after me was also a deciding factor. (The guy was super sweet and coming from industry, so his expectations/previous pay were already higher.)

              1. rolly*

                I’m a middle manager in a place where our junior staff are underpaid. It’s not explicitly gendered in the sense that junior men face the same issue, though it affects more women.

                I can’t do much about it, so I’ve made it clear to my direct reports that I back them 100% (including with strong references) if they want to find a new job elsewhere. That’s all I can do.

            2. The Real Fran Fine*

              I worked somewhere where I didn’t get to know the salary of my direct reports

              I work for a company like this now – I don’t know what my direct reports make as I’m the manager for my team, but not the salary planner for the department (that’s my manager). I don’t know why it was set up that way, but it was, and I’ll have to work with my manager once salary review time rolls around to ensure my team is appropriately compensated (hopefully at that point, I’ll get to see where everyone is, but we’ll see).

      2. Worldwalker*

        And *should* get their pants sued off. They deserve to be standing there in their legal skivvies trying to explain why, in the 21st century, they’re trying to pull this kind of … stuff.

    7. WellRed*

      Yes. A lot of blinders here in the part of the OP. Get out. They “ just happened” to notice this? Bull.

    8. RunShaker*

      Even before I read Alison’s response, I was like this company doesn’t value your work. Red flags were flying by the time I got to end of the letter. W.T.F. I’m so mad for OP. Get thee to an attorney & like Alison said TELL EVERYBODY at your company.

    9. PinkCandyfloss*

      That comment hit me right between the eyes. “They do value my work” well who wouldn’t, when you’ve been accepting so much less pay than everyone else for so long? Oh honey. Good riddance to them.

    10. Worldwalker*

      Yeah, if they valued the OP’s work, they’d have been paying her for it all along. Well, they might value her work, but they sure as shooting don’t value *her*.

      The question that comes up in my head whenever I think about this: “Do you want to work for a company that treats its employees that way?” Let’s say you discovered that they were paying, oh, the maintenance staff like that (proportional to their pay, of course). Would you want to work for a company that paid the men on the maintenance crew, say, 30% more than they paid the women, possibly even than their own supervisors? No, being a decent human being, you probably wouldn’t. So why is it acceptable when they do it to *you*?

      Your pay is being determined by evil bees. Take that other job and don’t look back.

    11. Here for the Insurance*

      Not only this, but it’s flattering that they’re going to match her new offer? Flattering? No, it’s not. It’s not flattering that they claim they’re going to do what they should have been doing ALL ALONG.

      This is like being flattered that your BF loves you so much that he drops his side piece when you threaten to leave him.

  1. Neon*

    If it takes the reality of you quitting to get your employer to bother to pay you what you’re worth you should never trust that organization again.

    1. E*

      I disagree. It shouldn’t have to come to that but the reality is sometimes organizations are in the process of looking at changing things holistically, or setting up a better system for salary determinations, or some other reason why change might be slow, and an individual’s needs get caught up waiting for that but when they’re about to jump an exception can be made. It’s not ideal but I don’t think an org deserves to be blacklisted for it. That said, I think that’s very different than LW’s company’s egregious pay inequities and she should absolutely leave and never look back. But I just don’t think all employees who get motivated to act quicker when someone’s leaving should be lumped in together.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Perhaps that is the reality, but I would have a lot of trouble trusting that a company is paying me fairly if they don’t offer me a raise until I have another offer. Particularly since they’re likely to skip the next raise review once I choose to stay. Will staying mean that mean I need to job search every time I want a raise?

        I’d rather jump companies than deal with a job that isn’t set up to pay me what my work is worth.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Eh, the longer I do this, the more I think that an employer who is not actively checking themselves for this sort of discrimination is just asking to be backballed. It doesn’t take a holistic change or overhauling your salary system to have a discrimination audit done to identify any outlier within your compensation system. The basics of this can be done with a spreadsheet of pay, titles, years of experience, and demographic data – does not require a fancy consultant. If you have ten llama groomers, and they’re all in a neat little scatter plot cluster except for Jane, that needs to be investigated and possibly addressed. Companies should be doing this sort of testing regularly, not waiting for someone important to quit.

        A former employer had one done, and it turned up a few people whose payscale was out of whack with their peers and – surprise, surprise – all but one of them were women and quite a few were not white. They treated it as a two-step process, the first of which was to quickly adjust the pay of those who were out of synch with peers, even though it was expensive, and the second was to do a holistic look at the salary system to prevent it from happening in the future.

      3. Observer*

        It shouldn’t have to come to that but the reality is sometimes organizations are in the process of looking at changing things holistically, or setting up a better system for salary determinations, or some other reason why change might be slow, and an individual’s needs get caught up waiting for that

        If you really think that there is ANY chance that that’s what happened here, I have a bridge to sell you.

        I think that the OP’s manager is hoping that she will fall for just this sort of hand-waving. But the reality is that when someone points out that the company is doing something illegal, it shouldn’t take “working behind the scenes” to get the company to look at “changing things holistically” to get the immediate legal issue taken care of.

      4. Jeebs*

        It’s not a question of ‘deserving’. These are organizations we’re talking about, not human beings; they don’t ‘deserve’ anything. And we are talking specifically about a situation where LW was being paid tens of thousands less than her coworkers in the same role.

        I would never trust any company where that situation was allowed to happen in the first place, especially not if it was only rectified because I was looking for a job elsewhere.

      5. Bob-White of the Glen*

        The realty is they were systematically underpaying a woman versus her male colleagues. This is either deliberate and calculated, or it is gross incompetence. Either way it is a company breaking the law for their own financial benefit and discriminating against employees until it is beneficial for them not too. Deliberate or not, they are simply showing that they do not and will not pay women their value.

        Might be easy for you to trust a company that chose to underpay you for years and moved slowly to rectify that, but all companies should be looking hard at fixing those issues or lose their best and brightest. Not the economy you want to be moving slowly to correct inequalities in. If you only get your value when leaving, it’s not a good company, they will not keep up with your value after years of underpaying you, and you should leave.

    2. Kyrielle*

      This! The place that was underpaying me badly, I looked at the salaries, went to my boss, and had a wild raise within a month or two. There was no other offer. There was no resignation. There was just “hey, you’re paying me well below median salary for this role and my experience, and meanwhile your reviews of me are glowing, this ain’t right.” They fixed it, and I stayed there for years, knowing that they might not pay as much attention as I’d like to those things but that they would by golly make them *right* when they came up.

  2. LovelyTresses*

    You should also find an attorney to help you sue — even if you’ve only been with this company for a year, you lost out on 40-60K! And if you’ve been there for multiple years (as I suspect you have), that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars you’ve lost out on because your company was breaking the law. Lost wages, lost wealth, lost retirement. Document everything, send any relevant emails to your personal email. Also, I’m so sorry this happened to you.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        I wonder how many people suggesting she talk to a lawyer know how difficult discrimination and pay disparity cases are to win, and how expensive and emotionally exhausting they are to fight. There is also the chance that you become known as someone who once sued your employer and your career suffers.

        I have a close friend that had what seemed to me (a layman) a pretty clear and egregious discrimination case. It took years to resolve, after the lawyer was paid it was not much money for a whole lot of pain. And she could no longer work in the field.

        I wish this weren’t the case, but it’s a reality.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          Yes, I do know. She should talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can explain to her what her options are and what the likely results and drawbacks are of each, and the OP can make an informed choice. She can’t make that informed choice if she just decides lawsuits are hard and scary so why bother even asking.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        The letter said/implied it was verbal conversation with the manager. I don’t expect she’ll get it in writing esepcially.

        Also all of the LW’s colleagueges except one are men. If that other woman is making on close to what the men make, the case for salary discrimination based on sex will be much harder to make.

        But I would also engage an attorney. I’m just saying that getting a smoking gun in writing seems unlikely.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          I would send an e-mail to manager “Per our conversation on xyz date,” and list the details. At least there will then be some form of evidence that it happened.

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            If the manager has any functioning brain cells, he wouldn’t respond to that email to confirm the conversation happened as laid out on the screen. Since it sounds like he was careful enough to have the conversation verbally, I don’t see him doing anything but deleting the email, which wouldn’t prove the OP’s case.

        2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Well, the facts are the facts, and the employer can’t hide those, ultimately. She could ask a few of her male co-workers what their salaries are, but she has enough info for a complaint (IMO/IAAL with some familiarity with employment law but not an employment lawyer).

        3. Magenta Sky*

          That’s what discovery is all about. The company doesn’t *dare* falsify payroll records when they’re subpoenaed.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Exactly. They can say or not say anything they want in a conversation with the OP, but who is getting paid how much is right there in the payroll records. And the court *will* see those records.

        4. Observer*

          The letter said/implied it was verbal conversation with the manager. I don’t expect she’ll get it in writing esepcially.

          The thing is that she doesn’t necessarily need it in writing from the manager. If the DOL comes knocking they are going to have to show apyroll records – and that tells its own tale. Same if they get sued.

        5. Ismonie*

          That’s not true. Even if the other woman is paid equitably, she can still make out wage discrimination. The standard is as set forth by Alison. The OP should seek a legal opinion, and you should refrain from discouraging someone from doing so.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Ideally, yes. But equal-pay lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming, demoralizing, and very difficult to win—especially as an individual plaintiff. Even with a paper trail saying “you’re underpaid,” it’s too easy for the company to trot out a litany of reasons why the lower salary supposedly wasn’t because of the plaintiff’s sex. Class action suits, where the claim is that a company systematically underpaid women across the company, can have more success, but I don’t get the idea that that would help the LW here.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, if OP is up for the fight I totally respect her and cheer her on, but if it was me personally I’d just quit, decline the counteroffer, and leave a nasty and transparent glassdoor review. I think it would be hard to prove they discriminated against me personally on the basis of gender if I’m the only female; they’re likely to counter with a list of reasons why I individually am not as good as my colleagues. I would feel differently if there was evidence they systematically underpaid women generally.

        Mind you, if anyone came asking me questions, I’d be completely transparent.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        You are quite possibly right, but she should consult an attorney anyway, and make an informed decision.

      3. Rain's Small Hands*

        Yep. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. I did get my 30% raise after invoking the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as did my female coworkers (and I left less than a year later), but was told there was little chance of seeing back pay from the attorney I consulted, and that any back pay I did get was likely to go straight to the lawyers. Its easier to leave – and then pay attention in the future so you can bring it up in the “oh, we want to fix this because its the right thing to do” way if it happens again. And I had a college degree none of my male coworkers had, I had more technical training in the field than my male coworkers, and I had been running statistics in our tracking system, I was outperforming as well – I still couldn’t find an attorney who would take it on pure contingency.

        Later I was working for a law office and saw a case much like mine go through – there was a tidy half a million dollar settlement – and the plaintiff walked away with less than $50k after three years of her life being hell.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          “I still couldn’t find an attorney who would take it on pure contingency.”

          This is what people who say, “but contingency!” miss. Sure, lots of plaintiffs’ lawyers work on contingency, and since the Equal Pay Act allows for statutory damages and recovery of attorney’s fees, there’s a non-zero chance of finding a lawyer who will take the case. But contingency lawyers don’t just take any case—they take cases they think they can win (or for which they think they don’t have to do more than a minimal amount of work and can thus keep the risk/reward ratio where they want it) and that promise a payout that makes it worth their while. That’s why class actions are popular: big payouts for the lawyers, proving that a company systematically underpaid women can be easier than proving that one person was discriminated against, and companies are more likely to settle a class action than a suit filed by an individual plaintiff. One person with a few years’ history of being underpaid is going to get a lot of “Sorry, but I can’t help you” from competent lawyers.

          Sure, it wouldn’t hurt LW to talk to a lawyer, if only because lawyers (1) know what does and doesn’t make for a winning case, and (2) can do things other than sue that might help the LW. But the LW would do well to think of the lawyer as someone who can talk about her options, not as someone who can “help [her] sue.”

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            They got a percentage of the total, plus all the costs of the three year long lawsuit. By the time those two equations happened, there was very little left for the plaintiff. The settlement did not include recovery of fees, but the contract the law firm had the plaintiff sign had that front and center and before the contingency percentage.

            (It may not have been the most reputable law firm).

      4. Ismonie*

        Most are contingency. I really wish people would stop giving the OP advice about lawsuits without really knowing.

        Op should consult a lawyer, if she wishes, and see if it is worthwhile for her to pursue this. For this large of a pay gap, it may very well be.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This. I would not wish a lawsuit on my worst enemy. Even if you are entirely in the right, they are expensive, painful, and like having a second job you’re not guaranteed to ever be paid for. Discovery is invasive. Even if you win, you may have to go BACK to court to enforce the judgment.

          Best case is you get a lawyer to write a letter and take a settlement offer.

        2. Former HR Professional*

          If she has the documentation to back up the extreme gap between her pay and her eqivalent male workers, the employer (on the advice of their lawyer) may offer herto settle with her in order to avoid publicity if she informs them of her intention to file a suit.

        3. Stubborn Vet*

          I’m in a lawsuit against the US Gov for back-pay right now. It’s an incredibly niche field, so my lawyer wanted pay upfront. They had a lot of work to do in a one-person shop regarding research, so it made sense to me to pay upfront and we could afford it. The nice thing is the settlement would be ~$100k and I paid them $12k. It has been years in the making (starting in 2018, IIRC), and I have had to learn to own my own failures in case they were brought up. Luckily the government lawyer only gave me a few character swipes (as character is NOT the issue at hand – primarily that I’m lazy and money-grubbing) in their defense response.

          All this to say – know your value and what you’re willing to put up with. The wheels of justice turn VERY slowly. I have been working my case off- and-on since 2018 – and even when I win I don’t expect to see resolution before next summer. I had to deal with a lot of trauma and mental health issues to get to a place where I’m content to let it run in the background while I live my life. I had to pay upfront – and we had enough money in the bank to cover it. To ME this case has been worth my time and resources – primarily because if the government pulls these shenanigans on another person then my case will be there as precedent. This is what I can do to hold the government accountable – so I make this my battle.

          You get to decide for yourself what is worth the fight.

    2. jojo*

      A female manager sued Sears over this several years ago. She had worked for them for around ten years. And was only able to recoup like two years of back pay. It was in many news papers.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          And their “counter offer” is to pay her what they are already paying her colleagues?
          Yeah. Because OP is leaving and they will no longer control the narrative, which is that “you are underpaid.”
          They preemptively told her this because when she eventually and coincidentally talks to people outside her current organization, she will have that at the front of her mind and not, “men make double women’s salaries there.

    1. dmowl*

      Yeah I am extremely confused as to how the company just recently noticed the pay discrepancy. Most pay raises have to go through a direct supervisor, so I’m supposed to believe the supervisor, the one who has been doing year end reviews and recommending people for raises for YEARS, has not noticed this employee has been getting paid way less?

  3. Birb*

    I get that its against the law, but are there consequences when a company does this, or someone to report them to? Could someone potentially sue for those unpaid wages?

      1. irene adler*

        My understanding is that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act might be used to recoup the last couple of years of missed pay.

      2. Worldwalker*

        You can sue anyone for anything, including parting their hair on the wrong side.

        Whether you can *win* the suit is a much more complicated matter. That’s why the OP needs to talk to a lawyer.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      In the US, anybody can sue anybody over anything. In this case, on paper, at least, there’s a pretty good case.

      However, unless the company settles quickly (and they should), suing someone is a *big* deal, takes *years* to come to trial (especially these days), and if it goes to trial, and will cost six figures in legal fees (with limited chances of being awarded those fees).

      It’s a decision that only she can make, and it should be made after consulting with an attorney. If the company is smart, a quick phone call from her attorney to theirs will get a substantial settlement offer, though.

      1. Mellie Bellie*

        The EPA is fee-shifting for prevailing parties, meaning the LW might be able to recover attorneys fees. In addition, there might be employment lawyers in the LW’s area who would take the case on a contingency fee basis. She should look into that.

  4. fin*

    It might be worth talking to a lawyer here. If this has been going on for years, that could be a lot of money in back pay owed to you.

  5. Transparency Titan*

    Whenever I leave a job, I email my full salary history at that company to any peer-level colleagues or those more junior to me. What they choose to do with that information is up to them, but I think it’s a kindness to share it so that others can advocate for themselves or be aware of any potential discrepancies.

    1. Reluctant Job Hunter*

      I’ve been tempted to do this but never have for fear of potential fallout. For example, losing glowing references if those folks found out I did something like this. I’m very torn about this.

      1. KP*

        Good companies are excited to have employees talk about their pay, because they compensate fairly. Also, discussing wages needs to become more commonplace/normalized.

        Imagine how much sooner op could have started looking for job or negotiating her pay if any of her male coworkers had mentioned what they get for the same job.

      2. Science KK*

        If you’re in the US and not in management, it’s illegal for them to penalize you/tell you you can’t discuss that. And for management if I’m remembering correctly you just can’t disclose other people’s salaries, but you should be able to disclose your own.

        1. ecnaseener*

          It can be illegal and still happen with no consequences. How would you ever prove that someone’s reference would have been more positive if you hadn’t talked about salary?

        2. I should be working*

          My employer gets around this by “requesting” that we don’t discuss our wages with each other. When I pointed out the law to my manager I was told “we’re not telling anyone they can’t discuss it. We’re just asking them not to”. As if there’s a difference.

    2. J*

      When I was at former job, a person outgoing in a more senior role than me but less qualified than me (and I trained her) left after a very short stint. She called me before telling our boss because she planned to recommend me for the role since I had been effectively doing it before her arrival and during her onboarding. She told me her pay history.

      Then she followed through on her actions. The company offered me $20,000 less than her pay, despite my longer tenure in the company and the industry. I countered with $10,000 over her pay. In the end, they came up some but wouldn’t pay me the amount she was paid. They also confirmed I’d be doing the work either way (as I had before) so I should just take the money. So I did take the pay raise but I was only there a few more weeks since clearly I wasn’t valuable enough to them. Thank goodness for my departing colleague’s support and helping me to know my worth.

    3. HH*

      Thank you for doing this. I shot myself in the foot as a new employee by asking for a too low salary. I realized my workload was much more than the job description indicated and kept asking for raises. Got tiny ones.

      One of my coworkers quit and we got drinks shortly after. He told me what his salary had been and I was FLOORED. It was double my salary. We had the same job, same experience. I had an advanced degree and he didn’t.

      I wish I’d asked people I trusted. I was grateful he told me but I wish I’d known before I wasted years being underpaid. I quit not long after.

  6. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Run, don’t walk, OP. That’s a huge discrepancy, even if base pay is well into the six digits, and they knew, they just didn’t care until you were actually leaving and they were faced with the additional expense of finding someone to take your place at a market rate AND training them up.

    They’ve shown you that they will get away with paying you as little as they can rather than treating you fairly and properly valuing your work, so believe them.

  7. Antilles*

    They didn’t care about massively underpaying you for years. They only cared when it was about to hurt their business.

    Enough said.

    1. irene adler*

      So how long have they been working “behind the scenes” to move OP’s pay closer (you’ll notice not “same as”)?
      I’m betting that “behind the scenes” work BEGAN directly after OP gave notice and not a minute earlier.

      1. Elenna*

        To be fair, it’s entirely possible that OP’s manager really has been pushing for fairer pay for OP for a while. But that still means that people higher up (whoever is in charge of pay decisions) was pushing back on *following the actual law*, and only now *might* decide to give OP the pay they deserved all along, now that they’ve threatened to leave. OP, this is not somewhere you want to work.

        1. Elenna*

          Also, even if that is the case OP’s manager should have told her before this, so that OP could make informed decisions.

          1. merula*

            Unfortunately, the NLRA doesn’t apply to managers. LW’s manager could’ve known about the discrepancy, tried everything in their power to right it and been refused by upper management, and still not be able to tell LW about the issue. That’s probably unlikely, but it does happen. It’s part of why I left my last job.

            1. Observer*

              That’s not entirely true. Yes, the NLRA does exempt management, but not from EVERYTHING.

              And also, somehow the manager was able to tell the OP now. What changed? From the legal POV, nothing.

  8. I should really pick a name*

    Don’t stay with the current company.

    They KNEW you were being paid less and they were okay with it. This isn’t something that requires working behind the scenes to correct.

  9. Emily R*

    “after all, they clearly value my work”
    If there were true, you wouldn’t be paid thousands of dollars less than your male counterparts.

    1. Falling Diphthong*


      If appreciation is shown to everyone else via money, it could have been showed to you via money.

      Worth checking some of the past counter offers where the company promptly started scrambling backward from that great offer. “When we said ‘another $50K/year’ we actually meant ‘a travel mug’.” (And I have known the counter to work our well for all concerned–but nothing about this says that they’ve been dealing in good faith for the past few years.)

  10. Mona*

    I am not impressed by your company.
    “Hi manager, I’ve accepted another job offer.”
    “Oh. I did notice your wage gap. Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.”
    “… When did you notice this? When were you going to tell me? When were you going to fix it?”

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        Bingpot. There’s no way this company is that grossly disorganized that her manager just now was realizing she made that much less than the men. They knew. They always knew and hoped to ride it out as long as they could.

        They are now about to enter the finding out phase after effing around.

  11. rinathin*

    For the love of all that is holy, get as much of this in writing as possible. Try to ask the one non-male coworker about their salary — for all you know, they had no idea and will suddenly find out they’re also being underpaid because of their (perceived) gender. Also keep in mind that discussing wages is a legally protected right, so if your current job tries to give you crap for it, they’re only digging themselves a deeper hole.

    1. rinathin*

      Just realized I repeated what Alison said, but maybe that’s a good thing. DOCUMENT DOCUMENT DOCUMENT, I cannot say it louder!!!

  12. another woman in tech*

    Allison is spot-on. that’s a HUGE disparity—as a manager myself I’m not sure how I would even swallow or tolerate that.

    your current company has already showed you that they can’t be trusted to operate in good faith re: pay. move on!!!

  13. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “To put some numbers to it, we are talking about a salary difference of $40-$60K.”

    This isn’t just a discrepancy, this is a WHOLE OTHER EMPLOYEE SALARY in some jobs!! Run, LW, run!

    1. Em*

      Accurate. I get paid 55,000 a year. I would imagine it must be getting close to double LW’s salary. Absolutely awful.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        In this case we know it was a 50% increase which represents $40-$60k, so she was earning $80k-$120k, and should have been making $120k – $180k.

    2. Too Many Tabs Open*

      Yep. LW, you’re talking about an amount that is between my actual annual take-home pay and my entire official compensation including the employer’s share of my health insurance.

  14. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Oh, tell them they can still “fix it” by retroactively paying you the missing $60,000 AND you are going to the new company so that they don’t get further in the hole.

    1. Reality.Bites*

      $60,000 per year! I couldn’t find how long she’s been there, but if she was moving on for reasons other than absurdly low pay, chances are it’s two years or more.

      1. Pansy*

        “chances are it’s two years or more.”

        Not necessarily. When this happened to me, I hired in at the absurdly low rate. It took about 6 months for me to get a sense that something was off, and I got a number for comparison by complete coincidence a little later. I had been there for almost one year when I made my pitch to HR.

    1. danmei kid*

      Even if it includes back pay, I wouldn’t consider it. Fixing things because they got caught doesn’t inspire trust that I won’t be right back here again in a couple of years.

  15. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Is there a way to get those back wages?

    Perhaps speaking with a lawyer would help. Especially if you have that conversation in written form, say an e-mail.
    Maybe even ask them to confirm this underpayment will be rectified in an e-mail or contract and you will “consider” their offer? (run that past the lawyer first).

  16. Sleepy*

    That’s great that your manager saw the problem and (according to them) have been trying to fix it but that does not obligate you to stay. There is no guarantee that your manager will stay and look out for you in the future. You could be left behind when it comes to future raises and bonuses. So many games they could play. So go!

  17. C-Dub*

    Yes, move on. Illegal explains itself, and this is not a company you would want to work for.

    And suppose you are making $90,o00, does this mean your male colleague is making $150,000? This is just wrong. Leave as soon as possible. You are supposed to be making close to $150,000 in this case. I would be pissed.

    1. Double A*

      Also! If you’re making $90k, and you’re getting a 50% increase, you are still possibly going to be making less than your male colleagues! So your new salary is $135k. That is still AT LEAST $5k and maybe $15k less than your male colleagues.

      If anything, I would bring this counteroffer to your soon-to-be new company and make sure the NEW offer is in line with your current male colleagues’ salaries. You could get a 50% increase and still be underpaid and stepping into a new wage gap that will only grow.

  18. Asenath*

    Listen to Alison. Do NOT NOT NOT accept an offer from your current company, whether it’s as good as or matching or even higher than what you have been offered from the new company. You now know, with absolute certainty, that they are going to underpay you as long as they can, and try to make, not compensation for past under-payment, but a maybe-fair salary going forward, sound fair or even generous. It isn’t. There are so many ways this can go wrong, from having them agree to a salary, but be cheap on other benefits – which you might not find out until you’ve turned down the new company, to them grudging every penny, ensuring that you don’t get the same raises your male co-workers get in the future, and so on and so forth. Accept the offer from the new company, whatever your manager comes back with. You might say “Unfortunately, this new salary comes far too late in my time with Company, and it’s time for me to leave.”

    1. Mockingjay*

      I would bet the winning Powerball ticket that OP is not the only underpaid employee at current company. Let your coworker know of the extreme salary disparity, then move on.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      In addition, in other stories here, the person who accepts the counteroffer only then learns about the strings the company is attaching (I recall someone having to repay the increase if they left within a year, or something?). This can go wrong in many ways. LW, leave. Now.

  19. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    $40-$60k is not something that can be fudged or finessed. It’s blatant.

    Tell your female colleague about it, then walk out the door to your new job happily.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Totally agree. Tell the local news media if you can, at least. Maybe some negative press will make them realize what they did was illegal.

      At least be sure to put a bad review on Glassdoor.

    2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      The petty part of me would use that raise to take out a billboard on the nearest commuter highway.

    3. Miss Muffet*

      I’m 100% here for Alison’s ‘Burn It All Down’ answer at the end —- tell freakin’ EVERYONE on your way out the door!!

  20. Been there*

    Even if you’re tempted to stay with your current company, I would be very concerned about future earning opportunities. I’ve seen it happen in the past where you might not receive proportional raises or bonuses because “we gave you a significant pay increase last year.”

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Thank you! I had to scroll too far for this comment.

      Always be cautious of an “exceptional” pay rise or bonus because they’re showing you their standard operating procedure – chronically underpaying people, especially women. They will revert to the status quo as soon as possible.

      So take the pay rise or status bump and get job hunting with that behind you, at a company that won’t use history to stiff you.

  21. Clobberin' Time*

    “Working behind the scenes” is a red flag made of smaller red flags which, in turn, are in fact large colonies of the highly toxic single-celled organism R. redflaggii.

    Whoever told you this is trying to convince you that they’re going to bat for you and are on your side. But what they really mean is that the higher-ups know or don’t care about your salary gap, and it’s not something they can fix by discussing it openly. Nobody has to go “behind the scenes” in a functional company to point out that a good employee is illegally underpaid.

      1. Jaydee*

        In office settings, yes they are almost always found together. Apis mellifera obviously also reside in other habitats where they don’t co-occur with R. redflaggii. But because workplaces are generally not a natural habitat for them, there is a strong symbiotic relationship between A. mellifera and R. redflaggii in the workplace.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      What does the R. stand for in R. redflaggii? Is it the type-species, ergo Redflaggii redflaggii?

        1. Worldwalker*

          Thanks for nothing, Gumption. There is now Monster Energy in my nose. (at least I missed the keyboard)

    2. JustaTech*

      It’s always depressing when I come here and se these really smart, correct comments and realize that while they’re talking about the OP, it could equally well apply to me.

  22. Essess*

    I would tell them that you would “consider” it if they were willing to put it in writing that you were being paid less than the male coworkers and that they are going to bump you to $X to match the male coworkers.

    Then after you have it in writing, tell them you “considered” it and decided to still take the new job. And now you have the written evidence to give to the Labor Board / lawyer to investigate getting the back pay for the illegal wage discrepancy.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Take out the word male, that will be a red flag to the boss.
      Just ask them to put in writing that they are making the offer to match others in the role. It is already clear the others are 99% male.

      Then say you considered it but (hell) no. Go to a lawyer and any agency that exists to address this.

  23. Ragged and Rusty*

    Do not stay. Take the new company’s offer. Check on LinkedIn salary comparison to see how much people in your area ARE being paid for your new job. Check next year around annual review time.

    I’m in shock because that paygap, that ENTIRE pay gap, is my salary. (Yes I’ve checked I’m right in line with where I should be) When I left my first company they tried to counter offer “If I stayed until November, they’d evaluate” while I had an offer in April. I pointed out that I’d been asking for a raise for the time I’d been working there, that I’d been begging for guidance to find out what their requirements were for the raises and promotions and I’d been marked as exceeding expectations every time. I pointed out they wanted me to move to a higher cost of living area for the same pay rate that wasn’t enough for me to get out of my parents’ house, on my own dime. And that was without pay inequity due to being a woman.
    There was nothing they could do to prove they deserved me trusting them ever again. No amount of money upfront, no counteroffer in writing.
    I left after showing the salary estimator to everyone still in the office.

  24. Elizabeth Bennett*

    Shouldn’t the focus also be on the new company too? If they offered her a salary with a 50% increase from her current (low) salary, then that’s not much of a raise at all! The new company is low-balling her salary and since she didn’t know about the 40-60k discrepancy until after the offer and she spoke with her current manager, it would initially have sounded like a huge raise but shouldn’t she be getting a 50% pay increase based on her current salary plus the 40-60k lost wages? Not sure I’d trust the new company as completely as you would like to.

    1. Claire*

      Not necessarily. Suppose she currently makes $120k, and her colleagues make $160-180k. At a 50% increase, her new salary will be $180k.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      We don’t know her current salary, though. Or the benefit package at the new company. Or if the new company might just have a different pay scale. (No matter what those numbers are, the discrepancy is huge & unacceptable.)

      1. All Het Up About It*

        But we kind of do know the current salary based on the letter and math.
        a job offer with a new company, where my base salary will be 50% more than I currently make…..Apparently, if I was being paid the same as my colleagues, I would already be making the amount of money that the new job is offering me…… To put some numbers to it, we are talking about a salary difference of $40-$60K.”
        So Claire’s math fits with the scenario, even if the package and pay scale is different.

        And if the move is lateral – then the new company appears to be paying her at market value like the old company is paying her male colleagues. So at this point we have nothing that points to the new company not paying her what she is worth.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Oops! Missed that part in my rage for the OP. So lateral, but she’s more likely to get appropriate raises, etc. And there’s a good chance she’ll find less sexism at her new job in general.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            It was a very rage inducing letter!!
            Coupled with urgency of wanting to yell at the OP: “No, NO! Please God NO! Don’t take the counter offer!!”

    3. Hlao-roo*

      If the letter writer is making a lateral move (going from teapot engineer at company A to teapot engineer at company B), it sounds to me like company A was happy to under pay her for as long as they could get away with and company B compensates its teapot engineers at a fair market rate from day 1 regardless of their gender. I don’t see sure evidence that company B is attempting to low-ball the LW with their offer (and there is evidence that company A low-balled the LW a lot when she started working there).

      1. Ragged and Rusty*

        Agreed, we don’t have enough evidence to hate company B yet. However I’d still be sus and at least find ways to check salary increases to make sure they’re in line with coworkers every year.

      2. kiki*

        It depends on whether the move is entirely lateral or not, but it may be worth it for LW to consider if they should negotiate harder than they were planning on.

    4. Pansy*

      I wouldn’t trust the new company just based on them being in the same field. OP should do her research on salaries and negotiate, just as she would under any circumstances.

      “based on her current salary plus the 40-60k lost wages”

      Well, no. Company B isn’t responsible for making up the difference from Company A. Company B is only responsible for compensating OP according to market rates.

      1. Elenna*

        I don’t think anyone is saying that Company B should be making up the difference. The idea is that from the knowledge we have, “current salary + 40k-60k” is likely to be the market rate – or at least, it’s how much OP’s male colleagues are currently being paid. So if we assume that OP’s male colleagues are being paid fairly, and we assume that the move to Company B truly is a lateral move, then that suggests the new salary is likely to be fair.

        That being said, I agree OP should do her due diligence and research market rates.

    5. Cera*

      Yes! I hope OP didn’t get caught up in the sticker shock and still negotiated her new wage.

      I was offered a position recently at a comparable increase and it took a lot to choke down the disbelief and still negotiate. Ended up with an additional 10 because of it.

    6. Roland*

      Why low-balling? If they are offering what OP would be making at the current company without the pay discrepancy then it could be perfectly on-target.

      > shouldn’t she be getting a 50% pay increase based on her current salary plus the 40-60k lost wages?

      I’m not following. Presumably company B’s offer was “we are offering X dollars” not “we are offering whatever you make now plus 50%”. The discovery that her current wage is unfair doesn’t change the fact that they offered X dollars.

  25. Six for the Truth*

    I’m seconding everybody who’s suggested talking to a lawyer.

    After you’ve done that, though, letter writer, please, please consider posting about your experience to Glassdoor so that prospective new hires at your current organization will have some chance of getting some warning about the misogynist pit they’re about to fall into.

  26. Tell them all!*

    Just came to say that I love the advice!!

    “Tell other women there.
    Tell the women’s issues group there.
    Tell the men.
    Tell everyone.”

    Make it normal to talk about compensation by doing it!!

    1. blood orange*

      OP, I’ve seen this do good in the past. Our office manager (a woman) left the company, and took one of our coworkers to lunch right after she left. She told her about a pay discrepancy between her and her male colleagues. She already knew that she was bringing in more revenue, and suspected the pay discrepancy, but was hesitant to ask. She successfully negotiated a pay increase that put her on more equal level with her male colleagues.

      I do wish she had told more people, and I found this out well after the fact, but the company did make more changes on their own shortly after.

  27. My Cabbages!*

    “Leave and tell them why you’re leaving. Cite the Equal Pay Act. Tell other women there. Tell the women’s issues group there. Tell the men. Tell everyone.”

    And especially tell an employment lawyer to see if you can get some of the 40-60k annual salary they should have been paying you all this time.

  28. Event Coordinator and then some*


    Do not stay with this company, OP. They have shown they will do you this dirty and the best indicator of future performance is past performance.
    It’s concerning your manager was so willing to tell on themselves and say “we’ve noticed your salary seems very low.” Like one notices it’s raining outside, not like one notices they are in violation of federal law.

    Bizarre, not good, get out.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yep. Unless the manager is brand new & only just looked into salaries, this statement is ridiculous. But the company is still in violation of federal law. And just human decency.

  29. Sequoia*

    I’m also a woman in tech. Please, please don’t take the counter offer.

    I’ve been where you are. I know it is hard to leave. But your current employer has been fine with under paying you by 50% for years. Do you want to work at a company that’s okay under one of the only women on the team that much?

    I finally realized how bad the problem was when I left a job where I was getting paid $X. They had offered me about a 10% raise when I told them I was leaving. A month or two later I learned my previous employer had listed my previous role on their website to find a replacement. They’d listed it for 50-60% higher than I’d been making and they had removed about a third of the duties I’d been performing.

    I was being so underpaid that in the 3 years after I left, my salary doubled. I’m fairly compensated now (8 years later), but I can’t make back the money I lost in the 10 or so years when I was being significantly underpaid. And I can’t make back what that money would have enabled in my life, like possibly starting a family.

    1. danmei kid*

      This. They will squeeze the maximum work they can out of existing employees for the least compensation possible and then panic when you leave because they discover the equivalent candidate market laughs in their face and no one applies.

  30. Dust Bunny*

    they also told me that they have noticed my salary seems very low, and that they have been working behind the scenes to try to move my salary closer to that of my colleagues who perform at a similar level

    Yeah, so why hasn’t that happened yet?

    Either your manager isn’t all that hot, is fibbing/exaggerating, or they have really been doing all they can and this company really does suck that much.

    You already have a better offer in hand. Get out.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      For the record, my entire annual compensation (pay, benefits, etc.) is at the bottom end of that. It’s a huge amount of money.

      1. Ragged and Rusty*

        Same, that’s literally a whole other person’s salary in many fields! That’s not a “forgive and forget because they said they’ll fix it in the future” amount of money.

    2. Elenna*

      THIS. Either they haven’t been trying at all, or someone is preventing them from giving you the fair pay that the law demands. Either way, someone above you at this company – most likely lots of someones – doesn’t care about a) fairness and b) the *actual law*.

    1. Cat*

      This! The ‘working behind the scenes’ and ‘trying’ and ‘everything they can’ is bullshit. It is bullshit. They were not planning on paying her more and they are not going to. They want to see if they can string her along for more time now that she knows she’s underpaid.

  31. e*

    “Oh and the backpay for the “mistake” is coming when?”

    And no, I wouldn’t be staying there. But I’d be getting it in writing and getting a lawyer…

  32. Maxie's Mommy*

    “I’m not going to stay here—-but I AM going to sue you!!” (said after you consult a lawyer). Find an attorney ASAP

    1. Juggling Plunger*

      Get the lawyer to give you the magic words that will tell them that they really will get sued – I think that a lot of people jump to “I will sue you” to the point where, in cases where the employer really does need to be sued, it sounds like the speaker is making an empty threat.

      By way of example, a number of years ago I started a new job and they colossally screwed up my health insurance – I’d already cancelled my COBRA coverage when they said “oops, we don’t know if you’ll have coverage next month”. After talking to a lawyer in my family, in my next conversation with HR I used the words “contractual obligation”, and they immediately understood that if I had unexpected medical bills I would be suing them, and they immediately fixed it.

      The “magic lawyer words” will be different for the OP because her situation is different, but a lawyer can help her to navigate it (and hopefully strike enough fear in the company’s heart to settle quickly).

      1. Kevin Sours*

        “I am going to sue you” is a good way for all further communication to take place in writing with the legal department. If you think you should sue you need to consult council and then let them tell you how to approach it.

  33. Don*

    Add to all the other reasons listed above you should leave: not only were they willing to screw you over, not only did they cheat you out of competitive pay they’ll never pay you out on, not only do they engage in illegal sexist behavior: they also SUCK AT IT. Your manager opened their fat mouth and admitted this to you, opening up the organization to legal repercussions. How many other cases are there going on that could come to light and they could get sued for? These people can’t even crime effectively, putting them in a position where they might be driven out of business and leave you and many other people unemployed.

    Which is a blessing in the long run, don’t get me wrong, but in the short run it’s disruptive to be out of a job. Change positions on your timetable, not the Department of Justice’s.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      That’s how little they think of the OP; they can’t even be bothered to lie to her convincingly.

  34. Violet*

    OP, I think you’re saying “they clearly value my work” because you’re viewing the counteroffer as a $60k RAISE. It’s not! Offering 60k more *would be* an indication that they valued you IF YOU WERE BEING PAID FAIRLY ALL ALONG.

  35. EverythingIsInteresting*

    Post what happened on sites like Glassdoor so others will be warned away. It needs to be hard for them to hire anyone else.

  36. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Do! Not! Stay! Do! Not! Stay!
    DO! NOT! STAY!

    Every single comment above (and probably below) that says the only thing your company valued was that $40-60K they were saving is correct. They do not care about the law. They do not care about equality. They do not care about your work. They do not care about you.

  37. Pansy*

    “I have suspected for a while that I am being underpaid, but I was surprised to realize just how huge that pay gap is.”

    Just out of curiosity, did you ever attempt to put some numbers to your suspicion yourself? I was in a similar situation, yes as a female engineer, and I did an informal salary survey of my (male) colleagues (I did ask a female colleague, but she did not want to share her salary, which is a thing I have spent much time ruminating over). I then took those numbers, along with the names of the people who were good enough to share, to HR and got a raise with back pay. I wrote a two page letter making my case for the raise, and part of my case was the gender difference and the ability to retain their workforce when there were pay disparities across gender.

    It actually took a couple months for the process to wend its way through HR. Since you already have an offer, you don’t have a couple months, so I don’t think you can try this at your current job. I would encourage you to think about advocating for yourself at future jobs, though. Sometimes building a case can get you what you need.

    1. Pansy*

      “Tell the women’s issues group there.”

      I wish I had thought of this. I did leave a Glassdoor review, but it’s a company of several thousand people with several thousand GD reviews, so I doubt that anyone will see it.

      I did share the salary bands and approximate years of experience for each with my grad school advisor so that future students would know what to expect when they got offers.

    2. Important Moi*

      “I did ask a female colleague, but she did not want to share her salary, which is a thing I have spent much time ruminating over.”

      All females colleagues aren’t allies.

      1. Pansy*

        lol, yes, no kidding. :)

        The funny thing about this woman was that in her interview talk (it’s common in engineering for people with PhDs to have to give a talk as part of the interview), she made a case about mentoring other women being a core value of hers. After she wouldn’t tell me her salary, I was all, “mmm, yes, mentoring other women as long as increases your own status.” I’ve met many people like her.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          Something I’ve noted – most people, at least in this century, are happy to be mentors to young people with all sorts of marginalized identities. But once that person is no longer a nice, deferential kid, but has grown into themselves as a professional and now wants to relate to their former mentor as a peer…sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it isn’t.

    3. OP*

      OP here. I never did try to validate my suspicion – to be honest, the only reason I suspected it was because last year, when I was on mat leave, I spent quite a bit of time browsing job postings in my field, and found quite a few that were in line with New Job. It’s a bit of a funny story, actually – I got quite a few recruiter messages on LinkedIn while I was out on mat, and usually I don’t respond to recruiters, but this one (for New Job) sounded particularly intriguing. I told them I was curious, but also on mat leave, so maybe they should contact me again when I’d been back at work a few months … and they did! And then I got the job.

      Anyway, I guess my point was, I did the market research (to the extent that I could) … but no, I’ve never worked up the courage to have a blunt conversation about salaries with my CURRENT male colleagues. Reading your story gives me the inspiration to do this at New Job once I get settled. Thanks so much for the great idea…. a company that responds the way yours did, with back pay, is a company that seems like it genuinely wants to do right by its employees.

      1. Pansy*

        Well, there were other issues, and I left over them. But you should still learn to be ok with asking direct questions about salary. :)

      2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        Oof, friend, gently: I believe you did some pregnancy discrimination against yourself there.

        Did you decline to talk with them during your mat leave out of consideration for *them*?

        1. OP*

          That’s a good question. Mostly it was that I had very little capacity for interviewing while I was on mat leave… my job is very technical, and I simply could not access that part of my brain while I was in the throes of sleep deprivation with a newborn. So I suspected that I would be doing myself a disservice to attempt an interview in that state. Secondly, I wanted to ensure I was at my Old Job for at least three months after coming back from mat leave, else I would owe them back the maternity leave top up they granted me when I was on leave. So it was definitely more for myself than for New Job…

  38. ThursdaysGeek*

    Talk to your male peers. When something like this happened to me, I was in a small department. My two male co-workers told me I needed to find a better job. I asked them if they wanted to work for a company that would pay me less because I was female. They did not. We ALL found different jobs.

  39. southernfried*

    Preach, Allison. This is illegal, immoral, jerky, and obnoxious. OP, do not keep working for these people.

  40. I'm Done*

    Get as much documentation as you can get a hold off and then make an appointment for a legal consultation. This is such blatant discrimination that I think you have a good chance to negotiate a settlement.

  41. Susana*

    Great, great answer from Alison. If they valued your work, they’d pay you your value! They’d be doing it already. They only “discovered” how much they need you when they thought they were going to lose you. Scratch that.. they probably do indeed respect your work and don’t want you to go. But they were perfectly OK doing that on the cheap.

    Leave and don’t look back. And tell EVERYONE why.

  42. ScruffyInternHerder*

    Coming from a non-tech but male dominated area of the working world AND having been in almost the exact shoes (I was underpaid by about half compared with men in my role, complicated by me having a different title though I did the work – think llama admin coordinator vs. llama handler and doing the work of the LH):

    Don’t do what I did. GTFO now instead of giving up multiple years of income and value. They’re not going to backdate the pay. They’re not going to continually increase your income based on your value. They’re going to only be held accountable with their feet to the fire.

    They’ve told you who they are as a company. Don’t accept it as reasonable.

    1. Observer*

      They’ve told you who they are as a company. Don’t accept it as reasonable.

      Yes, YES, YES!!!

      OP, keep this in mind. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” It’s as true of a company as of a person.

  43. Purple Cat*

    I don’t have the words to express how much this makes my blood boil. Especially when there are still plenty of people that try to claim there is no more gender discrimination.

  44. Sarah*

    Two things can be true. Your manager might value your work and be pulling all the strings they can behind the scenes AND your company can be illegally paying you under your value and unlikely to change in the future. Just because the first is true, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave because of the 2nd one.

    One of my employees is underpaid. I have been pulling every string I can to bring his salary up, but I’m constrained by HR. It’s not an illegal situation like in the story, but certainly not a fair situation. If he came to me with another job offer paying more, I’d wish him luck and know that I’ll be paying his replacement 20% more. It’s a stupid policy, but I can’t change it.

    1. OP*

      OP here… thanks for this comment, I suspect this is a lot closer to the actual situation than most people are assuming. Something I didn’t put in my original letter was that I recently switched managers (about 2 months ago). Although that doesn’t excuse my previous manager either… and at any rate, if my new manager is to be believed, her request to give me a counter offer that was comparable was not approved. So, onward to new adventures!

      1. Observer*

        Good to know.

        But it doesn’t change the fundamentals. Your current manager is good, but your prior manager and – more importantly – upper management are NOT good. Your current manager noticed the problem and alerted upper management. That should have been enough. The fact that it wasn’t? That’s all you need to know about the company.

      2. IANAL but I play one on TV*

        You really may want to talk to a lawyer to see if a settlement offer can be reached as they were likely in violation of the fair pay act. Not saying you need to go to trial but at least investigate your options if you were at that company for a while.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Yeah, even just reporting them to state labor board and getting them hassled and frightened might be worthwhile in terms of discouraging this nonsense with other women going forward. Even being investigated is a huge inconvenience and they cannot hinder or stonewall labor boards or other such groups from getting access to their payroll info as easily as they can an employee or former employee in a regular civil suit.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I really think you need to report the company to someone though. Someone needs to do a proper investigation and hold your soon to be ex-employer accountable, because this is a huge discrepancy!

        Still, I know that you might not want the hassle, but I at least hope you take Alison’s advice and give women at the company a head’s up.

  45. Observer*

    OP, I just want to say that you should absolutely NOT take their counter offer for all the reasons that Alison and the commenters point out.

    Think about talking to a lawyer about your options, although I totally see that walking away could be your best choice. But a lawyer could help you figure that out.

    Also, consider filing a complaint with the DOL / your local equivalent. They may very well not do anything with it, but it does mean that the next time someone complains, it will be more likely that they do something because when there are multiple complaints they start seeing a problematic pattern.

  46. ABCYaBYE*

    I wish I could play Devil’s Advocate on this, OP, but I don’t think there is another side. If you’re given a raise equal to what you’re being offered, that puts you right where you should have been all along at your current company. We don’t know how long you’ve been there, but I’m guessing you’re owed a couple hundred thousand dollars if they pay you what you’re owed.

    The new company values you enough to pay you competitively. Your new company didn’t for quite a long period of time. Your manager may not be in on pay discussions and may have some plausible deniability (or not) but sticking with the present company is telling them it is alright that they didn’t pay you properly for whatever length of time you’ve been there.

  47. Blarg*

    In my dreamland, you get a counteroffer that says they agree to back pay for the years of discriminatory pay along with a big bump. You tell them you need it in a lump sum to consider the counter. You get the lump sum. And you bail anyway. While telling everyone who works there what happened.

    1. OP*

      Wow, that sounds like the best dream ever. In reality, they didn’t come back with a counter-offer (because, of course they didn’t).

  48. Proposal Manager*

    Something similar happened to me early in my career. I found out that I was making 50 percent less than my peers as I straddled three roles. I was young and naive, a little too eager to build my career, and management saw that and exploited me before I wised up. Please celebrate your win here, but please also think about talking to your friends/family or perhaps getting therapy if you don’t already. I had a lot of anger and sadness due to this situation that followed me for a long time, a lot longer than I thought it would. I kept re-examining conversations and situations where I was lied to or where I thought I didn’t play my hand correctly. I also struggled with my self-worth going forward, not only because I was worth so much less than peers at work, but also because I felt I was to blame for some of it because I was naive. Please take care of yourself, you may be surprised at the feelings that crop up when you are underpaid so grossly for so long.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Oh yeah! I have been underpaid at several jobs*, and I go through times wondering if my pay is low because I really am that bad. Or if it’s because negotiations are not part of my core skills, and yet that must be a core skill when getting a job, because they’re not compensating on the skills they are hiring me for, but rather for this one skill I don’t need that much.

      *I’m not getting those feelings at my current job, because I talked to my boss, and I’m not underpaid compared to my peers — and everything else in this job is really, really good. And I have enough money anyway. So I’m still underpaid, but the other compensation makes it worth it. And it’s not just me. (Although that does lead to the discussion about pay scales that are the same for the lower COL head office and other locations that are higher COL.)

    2. OP*

      OP here. Thanks so much for sharing, and for addressing this directly! When I wrote to Alison originally, All The Feelings were about how guilty I felt for leaving my old job (how hilarious … I feel guilty to leave the place that’s been underpaying me all this time?! WTF?)

      So, yeah, guilt … maybe some shame mixed in there, at realizing how clueless I was this whole time? I told my husband that I’m nervous for New Job and he just stared at me and said, “you know how awesome you are, right?” I totally need reality checks like these… and most of us probably do!! It’s so easy to get wrapped up and lose perspective. I will definitely make sure to spend extra effort taking care of myself… and I am determined to go into New Job with a total no-bullshit attitude!!

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Ugghhhh, I hate it when I get those feelings of guilt like that when I am not the one who should feel guilty, but it’s hard to turn off, especially with it ingrained in us as women. And I have no doubt they feel zero guilt about grossly violating the law for years. Good on your husband for bolstering your confidence!

  49. Somehow_I_Manage*

    I’m so sorry to hear about this OP- this is not your fault and I hope you leave and never look back!

    The other lesson to everyone is *know what you’re worth!* Even if we completely set aside the blatant sexism- this company is taking advantage of an employee by paying well below market.

    Maintain a network and talk with colleagues at other firms, use websites, occasionally engage with a recruiter, talk to coworkers and managers you trust! Unfortunately, it’s up to us to do our homework and hold employers accountable. We vote with our feet every day on the job.

  50. Dr. Doll*

    Forty. To. Sixty. Thousand. Dollars. A. Year. Less. For. The. Same. Work. Because. You. Don’t. Have. A. Penis.

    Oh. My. God.

    My mind has stuttered to a complete halt.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’m not even a tiny bit shocked to read this, actually. The only thing that shocked me was someone actually admitting it.

      1. Veryanon*

        I’m not shocked either, unfortunately. I work in HR. At a previous job, I discovered a male colleague who had less HR experience and less education was making significantly more than I was (they had transferred him from an operational position into an HR role with the idea of letting him get some experience in different areas of the company). When I pointed this out to my (female) manager, she said that he had a longer tenure with the company than I did, which was true. But the fact remained that we were doing the exact same job and he was paid much more than I was. And this was in HR! You’d think that if any department would be aware of the importance of pay equity, it would be HR, but sadly, this was not the case. I pursued the issue with the (male) general counsel, who basically told me to let it go. I ended up leaving there shortly afterwards. I wish I could say that I filed a suit, but I was going through some personal issues at the time and just didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with it. Which of course my manager knew and was counting on.
        Also, this was not that long ago – we are talking 2009.

        1. Pansy*

          “transferred him from an operational position into an HR role”

          Did he get a raise when he transferred in? Or did he transfer in at the same salary he had in operations? Either way, it must sting from your perspective. Whether or not gender bias is at play depends a lot on how he got to that salary, though.

          1. Veryanon*

            If I recall correctly, he received a raise in his base pay because he was losing some of the incentives he’d had in the operational role. Which still sucked from my perspective.

            1. Pansy*

              I’m sure it does suck watching someone else come in at a much higher salary. It’s not realistic to expect someone to take a compensation hit when changing roles, though, and that is true regardless of the genders involved. I think you would need a lot more information before you could conclude that the pay difference was sexism at play.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The law doesn’t require the motivation to be sexism — only that a man and woman are in fact being paid differently for the same work. The only legal reasons for paying someone more are if it’s due to seniority or a merit system; not wanting them to take a compensation hit isn’t one of the legal exceptions.

              2. jojo*

                When my old company was doing layoffs I bumped the janitor so I could keep insurance for myself and my kid. I took a pay cut. They did not pay my office pay for taking out the trash. One usually gets paid by job title.

              3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                Doesn’t need to be based in sexism. It is illegal for the pay to be different for the same job/work, period. No need to prove intent.

        2. BubbleTea*

          What I’d like to know is where was YOUR opportunity to move into a different department you didn’t have experience in, but still get a pay rise, to boost your CV? Why did he get that and you did not?

      2. JustaTech*

        If ever there were a time for that Futurama gif (the one with Fry saying “I’m shocked! Shocked! Well, really not that shocked.”) it would be this.

  51. sdog*

    Can you do some research today amongst your colleagues and ask what their salary is? If so, I’d reach back out to your manager and say something like, “I’ve been thinking about what you told me, regarding the difference between my salary and others on the team. I’ve also been able to confirm that this does indeed appear to be the case. I understand and appreciate that you have been advocating on my behalf, but in order to consider staying, I would be looking at X, in order to match what is made by others in a similar position AND make up for the numbers of years I’ve been making less than my colleagues for the same work. Do you think the company would be able to do this?” This puts what you know in writing and frames it as a counter to your manager’s counteroffer. Of course, you shouldn’t take it — I completely agree with Alison on this. But I also think you should talk to a lawyer and having some of this in writing would strengthen your case.

  52. Sam*

    This is why pay transparency is so important! Everyone should talk about salary and all companies should publish salary ranges for each level. Companies will always give a lot of bs reasons why they wont be transparent but literally the only reason to not openly share salary bands is the flexibility to pay people unfairly. There are no non nefarious reasons to keep pay bands an secret and there really should be more pressure on companies to share them internally.

    1. Proposal Manager*

      I feel like women, minorities, people who come from poverty or lower-income environments, and people who have a more non-confrontational personality always lose out in salary negotiations. Companies know this and use it to their advantage. My income prospects went WAY up once many states started passing legislation that prohibited companies from asking what your current salary was. Before, getting underpaid once could follow you from job-to-job for YEARS.

    2. OP*

      OP here… I think this is so very true. Under the Wild West of Capitalism model, you can’t “fault” the company for trying to get the best workers at the lowest wages. But I totally agree, if my company had published salary bands (and tried to ensure everyone was paid equitably) then this would not have even been possible.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I work for a state agency, and all our salaries are available to anyone who submits a FOIA request. A local news outlet does it every year and publishes it, including our names, positions, and salaries. Only people making under 50K a year remain unnamed, though their positions and salaries are still posted. I think it is awesome!

  53. Cat Tree*

    Others have covered the pay aspect, but I’ll share a different kind of story. I once worked at a place with a horrible toxic plant manager (not my direct boss but could make everyone’s lives miserable). That plant shut down and corporate offered me a position at their new plant. The guy saw my face and completely unprompted assured me that toxic plant manager would not be there and was not offered a position there. At first I was very pleased that they recognized he was a problem.

    The plant closure took almost a year and in that time a bunch of stuff happened that soured me on the company in general. A few months before I was supposed to start at the new plant I found a position at a different company and I took it. I’m so glad I did! I now view that old company very differently. They weren’t proactive about addressing a problem employee. Instead, they knew he was a petty incompetent tyrant for YEARS and just … didn’t bother to deal with it. There were so many other problems with that place and I didn’t notice the overarching pattern until I left.

    Your company is the same way. Maybe your direct manager didn’t realize the discrepancy but someone knew or should have known. They didn’t bother to address this problem because they didn’t have to. If you think about the company as a whole you will probably find that this is just part of a larger pattern. How did your boss not know? Don’t they do annual performance reviews and pay raises? If not, those are also problems, not mitigating factors! Or are you the only employee that reports to your manager? If so, my points still apply to their manager. This place is intentionally shady at worst, and lazy or incompetent at best. Take the other offer and don’t look back.

  54. Casey*

    This reminds me of the boss who fired me and mentioned in that meeting that if I were a man he’d have been paying me double what he was paying me.
    I was horrified and insulted, but I was young and didn’t quite realize that in addition to being rude and offensive, it was illegal.

    1. I take tea*

      It reminds me of a person I knew who applied for a job. She stated her salary wish, and the would-be boss said “come on, I don’t even pay the guys that much”.

  55. Chauncy Gardener*

    As a woman in a male dominated industry all I have to say is…..

    FLAMES! Flaaaaames on the side of my face

  56. Ashloo*

    Enjoy the new job, OP! And write a straightforward Glassdoor review of Old Company after you’ve settled in!

  57. Nom*

    I’d be mad if the difference were $3k. This is just outrageous. Gender aside, how does the company even have a policy that allows for such a huge discrepancy for the same job?

    1. JustaTech*

      Seriously, where is their HR or legal department? Yes, HR is not your friend, and HR’s job is to keep the company out of trouble, but hello, not letting people make these kinds of trivially obvious discrimination cases for themselves is part of “keeping the company out of trouble”.

      1. OP*

        That seems obvious to me, too. I suspect my manager just made a terrible mistake in telling me the information about the pay discrepancy.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Probably, but it was the right thing to do. Still hope upper management runs across this post, recognizes it is their company, sees Alison’s response and the comments, and starts to get nervous …

  58. Veryanon*

    Yes, this is gross and if I were the LW, I’d definitely consult with a private attorney to see if pursuing this with the EEOC makes sense. While this is definitely illegal, pursuing a private lawsuit can take a lot of time and resources (both financial and emotional), and the LW may decide it’s not worth it. Or maybe the EEOC will decide this is so egregious that they’ll step in and do it for her. But a consult is the first step in determining that.

  59. Underpaid female educator*

    I sued my employer for this in Washington State, under my state’s equal pay act, which is more strict than the federal law (tried to get it fixed by filing a complaint with EEOC, and it went nowhere- so disappointing). My case went to to trial, the jury found in my favor, and I won a six figure settlement. Per the state statute, my employer also had to pay my legal fees. My lawyer took my case on contingency, so if we had lost, I would have owed him nothing. She should absolutely sue.

    1. OP*

      OP here. WOW – thank you for sharing this… I have to say, the prospect of starting a lawsuit seems overwhelmingly daunting (especially given I have children and am the sole breadwinner in my household – very difficult to imagine making time for this) … that being said, it sounds like it can vary quite a lot depending on where one lives. I guess I’ll have to do my research, but this is encouraging. Thank you!!

  60. Lifeandlimb*

    If they knew for a while that you were being so egregiously underpaid, then why are they only mentioning it now? Oh right, because they finally might stand to lose you.

    If they cared about your well-being and professional value, they would have been much more transparent in your salary equity. Don’t be “flattered”; that has nothing to do with it. Get yourself a big-ass raise by changing jobs, and then continue to initiate raise conversations every year for the rest of your career based on the value you bring to the company.

  61. MD*

    Manager here, in high-tech. This article does a disservice by implying that MOST full-time (salaried, non-exempt) jobs are subject to the equal pay equal work thing when in reality it’d be the exception rather than the rule to have a job like that where the work was so specifically defined as to be applicable.

    My previous employer did at one point provide me with the chance to deliver an unexpected and welcome bump in a female employee’s salary but it was based on the position in a salary band and some general org-wide metrics; not a precise comparison of the exact same work to somebody else’s exact same work, because we literally didn’t have 2 people in that 1000-person org who could be said to have done precisely the same exact work.

    It’d be more common to have the equal pay act apply to hourly or at least unionized if salaried jobs; I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere full-time where it would apply (the “merit” argument would come into play instead, no matter how poorly justified it may be).

    1. danmei kid*

      Manager, if you look broadly across your organization and see a trend of women being paid less than men … regardless of all the equivocation & rationalizing you’ve written out here ….. FIX IT.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      She said that the employer said the work was similar and that the pay was off; it is not her opinion of the work she is doing.

      They will “move my salary closer to that of my colleagues who perform at a similar level. Apparently, if I was being paid the same as my colleagues, I would already be making the amount of money that the new job is offering me.”

    3. Pansy*

      Yes, this is true, and zooming in on the details is how companies create pay disparities and avoid closing them.

      If you look globally across all the employees, however, if the women/Black/Native/gay employees in the same seniority level as a group have lower salaries than men/White/straight employees, then there is a case that similar work is not compensated similarly and the equal pay act comes into play.

      The other factor is that engineering companies don’t compare just the details of the job but also things like whether the employee can lead teams or whether the employee works on strategic level projects. A Fur Braider might be very different from a Hoof Bedazzler, but a Fur Braider who can act as a SME to other Fur Braiders is quite similar to a Hoof Bedazzler who can act as a SME to other Hoof Bedazzlers.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        “Yes, this is true, and zooming in on the details is how companies create pay disparities and avoid closing them.”


        1. MD*

          At my previous employer, ignoring the <3 year college hires who were on kind of a regimented schedule with the exact same raises, you were likely to have 10 different salaries for 10 people, because merit raises (which were puny) might be 1.9% for one person, 2.0% for the second, and 2.1% for the third; repeat N years in a row and you don't have any two people with the same salary (whether it's two men or two women or one of each). The salary bands being a fairly hard constraint on upper and lower for a given level (which is sort of but not really the "equal work" end) would help a lot but that's all you could use to try to establish more fairness.

          1. Pansy*

            Salaries for work at a *similar level* should at least be similar, however. All the people who after 10 years work without oversight and provide high level, strategic inputs to projects should be getting the 2.1% raises, vs all the people who after 10 years require significant oversight and provide low level, tactical input to projects get the 1.9% raises. If instead, all the men are getting 2.1% raises and all the women get 1.9% raises, there is a problem.

            If all the men get 2.1% raises bc all the men get all the opportunities to provide high level strategic inputs, you have a different problem.

          2. Pansy*

            After 10 years, consistent 2.1% raises vs. 1.9% raises results in 1.23X vs 1.21X the salary in year 1, respectively. OP is talking about a 50% difference.

            1. MD*

              I am not at all arguing that the employee wasn’t underpaid in the “we all know it when we see it this obviously” sense. I am arguing that it would be nigh-impossible to win a lawsuit on this, and thus the people who are saying to go for it are doing the OP a disservice.

              1. Pansy*

                Thanks for that clarification. It sounds like you are arguing that salaried jobs aren’t subject to the equal pay act bc the exact details of each person’s job differ, and that salary differences arise from minute differences in merit raises.

                1. MD*

                  The larger differences we saw were a result of what it took to hire people in away from competing offers, but the salary bands over time would compress things towards the median (which is what they exist for, after all).

      1. MD*

        Her manager saying “you are being underpaid” is not the same thing as “you definitely have enough proof to win a lawsuit”. Many of the commenters here have made this conflation.

  62. LW*

    Men- tell women and nonbinary coworkers what you make. That’s what you can do to move the needle. OP should never have been in the dark for that long.

    1. OP*

      OP here. Sadly, the more I think about this whole situation, the more I just feel angry about being so clueless for so long. I don’t know what we can do to drive actual change around this (i.e. how do we get men to be more open about their salaries so other genders can actually gauge what a fair wage looks like)… it’s definitely always been the case in my career that you don’t ask your colleague directly about their salary, and you don’t use actual numbers. (Hence my extreme surprise at how candid my manager was in the conversation when I told her I was leaving.) Now that I’m on the way out, at least I can be blunt about this with the other women (and trusted men!) on my team.

      1. Pansy*

        That’s been the case during my career, too. I just … decided that didn’t suit my needs and started asking.

        Here’s a tip: When as I asked people their salary, first I shared mine. I didn’t get an exact answer out of everyone. One person refused to give her salary at all, and one person confirmed that their salary was above a certain amount but not the actual number. There are no magic words to get someone’s salary out of them, but the first step is to be ok with asking.

  63. PinkCandyfloss*

    Just adding my voice in support of everything that was said: do NOT take any counteroffer, do NOT stay at this company, and tell EVERYONE you can what you learned about the salary discrepancy, ESPECIALLY any other female employees. For every rat you see …..

  64. Qwerty*

    I get that it will feel good if they give you a counteroffer, but I wouldn’t trust it. They were content to underpay you until you were ready to leave. The defense of no one noticing it isn’t good either – this should have been caught long ago!

    Salaries have increased greatly in tech in the past few years, but the difficulty in hiring + diversity objections resulted in many companies doing internal pay band reviews to make sure long term employees or minorities were getting the same salaries as their more recently hired colleagues.

    File this under “too little, too late” and don’t feel any guilt about leaving this place!

    1. PinkCandyfloss*

      It wouldn’t feel good to me to get a counteroffer. It would enrage me, as it is now, to think that they COULD have been paying me as much as everyone else this whole time and they simply …. didn’t.

  65. Environmental Compliance*

    I once was called into my then-boss’s office and given a 15k raise. He had been in the position for 4 weeks (new management overall). I was told that the person who was in a related position (male, and less experience than me) had been making 10k more than me, all he could figure out was because I was female, and he felt that was absurd and here’s your return to what you should have been paid. He was *pissed* for me.

    That boss valued my work. I want to point out that *he came to me with all of this*. I did not know until he told me, and at that point, everything had been processed behind the scenes and I would see it on my next paycheck. At NO point was I fighting for it. I did not need to go and force a counteroffer. The value was in my work *from when he started*, not when I raised it as an issue.

    It’s *not* valuing you if the only time they choose to do something about it is when something pops up that will inconvenience them.

    1. OP*

      OP here. This is a great point. Something I didn’t make clear in my original letter was that I actually just switched managers a couple months ago, so when she told me she had noticed this and was fighting for me behind the scenes, it really did ring true. But that being said, there’s no excuse for my previous manager(s) who presumably would have been in a position to notice the same thing. And even if my new manager was indeed fighting for me, all that is moot now since apparently the higher-ups didn’t approve the counteroffer request she put in. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Still seeing the contrast with your boss’s reaction (which was SO awesome!) does highlight for me that my manager and my previous org definitely are not the place to be if I want to be compensated properly for what I do. So thank you for sharing your story!

  66. Luna*

    “Apparently, if I was being paid the same as my colleagues, I would already be making the amount of money that the new job is offering me.”
    Hmmm, maybe if they had done that to begin with, LW might not have been looking…!

    Even if they come up with a counter offer that is on-par with the new place, do you really want to keep working at a place that will finally pay you what you should be earning, only because you were practically walking out the door?

  67. ChemistryChick*

    Echoing the sentiment that they may value your work, but they don’t value YOU. If they did, you wouldn’t be paid massively less than your male counterparts.

    If you’ve got the bandwidth for it, absolutely get in touch with a lawyer once you take that new job and get what the old company owes you. Even if you don’t do that, pleasepleaseplease listen to Alison and tell everyone you can what’s going on, because if they’re doing it to you, I guarantee they’re doing it to someone else.

  68. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Not only is this something to make sure every single person in current job is aware of, most especially the other women, but this is also something that you should make sure is ALL OVER sites like GlassDoor, Fish Bowl, etc. Other people looking at this company as a prospective employer NEED to know that if they want to be paid equally to their colleagues that they’ll need to fight for it.

  69. Anonymosity*

    I’m 100% on board with telling everyone you possibly can. These pay discrimination practices are like vampires; they will never stop sucking the life out of people until they’re exposed to the sunlight, where they will go up in a puff of accountability smoke.

    Congratulations on the new job!

  70. Rosengilmom*

    And if your rotten employer offers a savings plan with matching, the lost $$$ due to your contributions, matching, and market gains

  71. April Alter Ego*

    I have been in a really similar situation but a little less extreme. About 30k less than male colleagues and less than the entry level folks I manage. I admit I brought it up with my boss as a why wouldn’t the organization have urgency to correct a pay discrepancy but I was too scared to site the law. It felt like I didn’t have proof and I didn’t want to come across as someone who would sue them when I thought my boss was also concerned. But . .. it took over a year to get any adjustment and it still was only 10k. HR didn’t care. I should have spoken out more.

  72. Double A*

    I made this comment as a reply, but wanted to post it as a top-level comment too. You should NOT take the counteroffer, but you might be able to use the counteroffer to get an even better off at your new company. Make sure you run the numbers.

    Let’s say you’re currently making 100k. Your new job will pay 50% more, so you’ll earn 150k. However, you just found out that your peers at your company make $140-$160k. So you would not be out of line to ask for the higher range of that. And for some permutations of these numbers, even a 50% raise would leave you paid less than your male colleagues, so run the numbers and make sure you are paid fairly at THIS job from the get-go, otherwise the wage gap will continue to widen.

    1. OP*

      OP here. This is very true – and I have really been pondering whether it makes sense to try to re-negotiate with the new company, knowing what I know now. When I accepted the offer (the contract is already signed…), I thought it seemed like a great deal, but with this new information about my current situation I feel like I completely lacked perspective going into the new job.

      In fairness, I DID do the market research, but salaries in my line of work vary WILDLY – anywhere from 120K (if I were to take an office job in my city, that would be a pretty normal salary for my level of experience) all the way up to 200-220K if you happened to be in a major city. So it’s a bit complicated since I’m working fully remotely, as will my entire department.

      > make sure you are paid fairly at THIS job from the get-go, otherwise the wage gap will continue to widen.

      This is such a good point. When I think about The Pay Gap (general) and My Pay Gap, I am struck by how something so simple as one’s previous pay plays such a big role in what pay you are willing (even excited!) to take in the next job. For me personally, there is also a kind of “cultural” factor, where even when I was underpaid I was still earning 2x more than some of my friends and family. So it sort of feels like a “complaining that my caviar is too salty” kind of situation. Except it’s not. It’s just so weird how all these different social and personal psychological factors also play into something that is definitely a systemic issue.

      1. Pansy*

        Re-negotiating tends to come across as a bad faith action. I advise putting your efforts into negotiating good raises going forward. If you ever change jobs again, be sure to negotiate then.

        1. Observer*

          I think that this is right.

          Also, be more willing to move to a new job if you come to see that you are still being underpaid, albeit not as egregiously. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “Oh, well it’s not as bad as last terrible place, so I’ll stick with it.”

  73. Wow. Just wow.*

    On a federal level, she likely has a case. If she is in California, I’d say she definitely has a case. Up to you OP to pursue this because it will be exhausting. But if you don’t pursue, this company will continue to get away with this and you are leaving some serious money on the table.
    Alison – does thid qualify for worst company/manager of the year?

    1. C-Dub*

      I was thinking California too. Part of it is because I am in California and I know California has one of the strictest labor laws in the nation. I agree, she would most definitely have a case if she is in California.

  74. AA Baby Boomer*

    I assume that she can sue the company over this. I hope she does. They should be paying her back pay including raises and interest.

    G o for it. Get a lawyer; file suit. Hopefully they’ll decide to write you a check to avoid the bad publicity. I would be furious and upset if this was me.

  75. El+l*

    Just know that ~95% of bosses will say things like “I’ve been working hard to try to keep you” when you give your notice. I’ve heard that line before, it’s a common line. And statistically, the actual proportion of bosses who mean that and whose actions speak that truth is…more like 50%.

    Anyone who consistently underpays you by ~$50k/year was – at best – never even trying.

  76. RedinSC*

    Years ago I was working for a university. I found out (because salaries are public record) that I was being paid $40-60K less than the men in my same position in different departments. In fact all the women were being paid Minimum $10K less than the men.

    When I went to leave, I had a higher salaried offer, but still not what the men were making, and the university lowballed the counter. They told me, “you’d be spending that money on your commute”

    You can’t tell me how to spend my money. I had thought about suing at the time. I thought I should gather up all the women in my position and make it a larger group (4 women vs 2 guys) being paid less.

    I live in a small community, even though it was right, I probably would not have ever gotten another job if I initiated a lawsuit like that. So I didn’t. Took my new job and haven’t looked back.

  77. OP*

    OP here!

    Thanks for all the comments. For a bit of a real time update, my manager came back and said they weren’t able to get approval for a counter offer. No surprises there. At least the decision is now super easy. (I was a bit worried they would actually come back with a counter offer… I truly do have amazing co-workers and I love my work… except for the whole, um, not-being-paid enough thing.)

    So, onward and upward to the new place! … and goodbye forever, old job.

    I definitely hear the advice to lawyer up. I’m not even sure where to start with that, although for now I will definitely make a copy of all the documentation I have. I never got that response from my manager in writing (about noticing the pay disparity), and I did see several commenters here mentioning how, even with a solid case, those cases can be very hard to win anyway… but I will follow up on all the tips here and see what comes next.

    Thanks so much for all the support! This was exactly the reality check I needed. (Isn’t it funny how you can sometimes get really attached to a workplace that turns out to be treating you badly….? It’s like trying to leave an abusive boyfriend….)

    1. Pansy*

      Very hard to win, and they take a huge personal toll. After paying your attorney’s fees, you will have just enough leftover for the therapy you will need at the end of the process.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        There can be other ways, like reporting them to a labor board or something. It doesn’t need to be a whole lawsuit. Just enough to ruffle their feathers and inconvenience them. Being investigated, even if nothing comes of it, can really be a hassle. And being investigated by a legitimate oversight agency usually means they cannot as easily drag their heals or obstruct access to payroll information (I work for a healthcare oversight agency, and when they start going on about HIPAA, we get to shut them down because we are HIPAA exempt and they are required by law as licensees to cooperate with any investigations we pursue).

        Also, a record of it can be useful later to another woman who does choose to make a real lawsuit of it. At the very least, OP can talk to a lawyer in a consultation and find out what options there are.

    2. JustaTech*

      Take the money and run! At least they’re making it easy for you by not bothering with the counter offer.

      The difficulty of winning lawsuits is why the whisper networks exist – it still gets the word out, and then word gets around. And if your new place has been publishing salaries then it’s going to be very hard for your old place to hire someone new at your old salary.

      Any time your relationship with someone (romantic partner, business partner, employer, etc) starts to resemble the King George songs from Hamilton, that’s a sign it’s time to go.

      (And thank you for sharing your story, I’ve been doing some reflecting of my own.)

  78. Konichiwa*

    Does anyone know if this applies to people who are not based in the same country? At my job, we are split between the US and Japan. We do the same work, but the Japanese team (all women) earn 60% less than the US based colleagues. Is this legal?

  79. TeapotNinja*

    Tell them that you would consider the offer, if they offered you back pay for the entire time you were underpaid compared to your coworkers.

    What utter bollocks from your employer.

  80. New Senior Mgr*

    That’s a huge pay gap, OP. I’m livid over here on your behalf! They don’t value you and therefore don’t deserve you. Onward to the new opportunity and good luck.

  81. GlitterIsEverything*

    At first, I was going to say they don’t value you or your work – they’re trying to figure out how much money it will take for them to keep you quiet about the pay discrepancy.

    But then I read your updates that they didn’t actually MAKE a counter offer.

    Not only do they not care about you, or your work, or the law, they’re so nonchalant about it that they’re not even going to bother with hush money.

    Burn them to the ground. Tell absolutely EVERYONE about the disparity. Tell the janitors, the security guards, your coworkers, the women’s issues group, any DEI groups the company has, the EEOC, your local labor department, post it on the company’s social media pages, EVERYONE. Consider talking to an attorney, or maybe the local news.

    Force them to answer more questions than they can handle about whether anyone else is being paid this unfairly. If you’re not in a place where you can handle a lawsuit yourself, turn this over to someone else and watch it all burn.

  82. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I love it when Alison goes into all-out let-them-burn mode! And on a website with a name that implies a managerial stance!!

  83. Calamity Janine*

    eat them, LW.

    okay fine. first get an admission of this in writing via email from your boss, and once you have that forwarded to your personal email as well as printouts stashed away appropriately etc including forwarded to your employment lawyer.

    THEN eat them

    1. Calamity Janine*

      (this is how you know it’s a good thing i am reading AAM while disabled because i am much too feral to join the workforce. in my defense though this is different from the “i bit someone at work” letter because these folks in fact deserve many bites very much. at least that’s what my deep lizard brain says. bites bites bites. so many bites. bites for daaayyyss)

  84. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP If you take this counteroffer to be brought up to parity with your male coworkers, make sure they classify it as a CORRECTION not a raise. And get that in writing.
    I would put cash money down to bet that you would not get a raise in the next cycle when your company gives raises–because “you just got one”. You won’t get a bonus when they do. And when you go back to getting a raise, they’ll go back to giving you the 2% when your male co-orkers are getting 6%.

  85. M Munn*

    If discussion with current mgr wasn’t in writing, you can send them an email summarizing what they said. Then if they don’t respond that your understanding is wrong, you have some written documentation.
    And yes – print/forward EVERYTHING to personal email. My husband should have done this on a different type of issue, and we regret it.

Comments are closed.