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Sep 122012

I’ve been racking up the frequent flyer miles lately speaking about internal pay equity. (I’ll be in Richardson, TX next week for the Texas Total Rewards Conference – stop by and say hi if you’re there!)

My presentations have been well received, and I’m glad to see that people are interested in proactively looking at their compensation programs for internal pay equity. That’s why I’m really excited to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with Apress for a new book, Compensating Your Employees Fairly: A Guide to Internal Pay Equity, that will be published in April 2013!

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Compensation fairness is a universal preoccupation in today’s workplace, from whispers around the water cooler to kabuki in the C-suite. Gender discrimination takes center stage in discussions of internal pay equity, but many other protected characteristics may be invoked as grounds for alleging discrimination: age, race, disability, physical appearance and more. This broad range of vulnerability to discrimination charges is often neglected in corporate assessments of how well compensation systems comply with the law and satisfy employee norms of fairness. Blind spots in general equity constitute a serious threat to organizational performance and risk management. In Compensating Your Employees Fairly, a respected practitioner and consultant laws out in practical terms everything you need to know to protect your company along the full spectrum of internal pay equity issues, including all the technical methods you need to optimize compliance and minimize risk.

Compensating Your Employees Fairly is a timely survey and comprehensive handbook for compensation specialists, HR professionals, EEO compliance officers, and in-house counsel. It provides all the information you need to ensure that compensation systems are equitable, auditable, internally consistent, and externally compliant with equal employment opportunity laws and regulations. The author presents technical information – both legal and statistical – in common-sense terms. Her non-technical breakdown of complex statistical concepts distills just as much as practitioners need to know in order to effectively deploy and interpret the standard applications of statistical analysis to internal pay equity. The focus throughout the book is on real-world application, current examples, and up-to-the-minute information on recent and pending wrinkles in the evolving legal landscape.


I’ll post more information as it becomes available – stay tuned for details!

Aug 172012

We’ve all heard Disney referred to as the “happiest place on earth” but one woman’s experience has been less than magical.

In fact, former Disneyland restaurant employee, Imane Boudlal, is suing the Walt Disney Company for harassment and religious discrimination claiming to have been fired over requesting to wear a Muslim head scarf on the job.

Apparently, after two years employed as a hostess at the Storytellers Café inside Disneyland’s Grand California Hotel and Spa, Boudlal requested permission to wear a hijab (the head scarf worn by Muslim women) while at work. Her suit claims she offered to wear a scarf matching her uniform colors or featuring a Disney logo but managers denied the request telling her it was a violation of the company’s policy on employee appearance.

Boudlal was supposedly offered the choice of working in a back area where she would not be visible to customers or wearing a fedora on top of the head scarf. She reportedly refused those options and was consequently fired.

Additionally, Boudlal alleges that she was subjected to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs, referred to as “terrorist” and “camel” by both co-workers and supervisors and that her complaints to managers fell on deaf ears with no action ever taken.

Boudlal says in a statement issued by the ACLU of Southern California, “I faced harassment as soon as I started working there. It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab.”

Disney officials counter her claims stating that she was offered several costume options to accommodate her religious beliefs and four different jobs that would allow her to wear her own hijab. According to Suzi Brown, a spokeswoman for Disney, “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a history of accommodating religious requests from cast members of all faiths. Unfortunately, Boudlal has rejected all our efforts and has since refused to come to work.”

Through her lawsuit, Boudlal is seeking punitive damages, orders for Disney to allow employees to wear hijabs and provide anti-harassment training to employees regarding Muslim issues.

Aug 152012

You’ve seen the recommendation system: “Hello, username! If you liked Frankenstein, you may also like Dracula.”

Books, movies, clothing, dining options, and even social media friends – everything has a recommendation for you. Predictive modeling helps us weed through the hundreds of choices of books / movies / restaurants / friends and find what we want. Or, rather, what the algorithms think you want.

Companies like Netflix and Amazon have gotten pretty good at this. They’ve spent a lot of time and money in developing predictive models that seem to know what you want even before you do.  Using the astonishing amount of data they collect, they’re able to make a recommendation using an algorithm.

The advantage of using algorithms for decision-making is that judgment and personal opinion are largely absent. If the user’s characteristics satisfy certain thresholds on key parameters, the recommendation for a particular movie, product, etc., is given. Everything comes down to statistical context.

What if we took this Netflixian approach to decision-making and applied it to the selection decisions within our organization? Could it eliminate discrimination?

Imagine an applicant tracking system that could sift through hundreds of applications and identify the “best” candidate, using information on each candidates’s characteristics and the characteristics of “successful” hires the company had made in the past for the same position. Think of an HRIS system that made recommendations on who to promote and when to promote them…

It’s kind of like Minority Report for selection decisions – your HR Precog would spit out a promotion recommendation based on a complex mathematical calculation. No consideration of age, gender, race and ethnicity, disability status, etc. It wouldn’t matter if we thought he was a good guy, hated the way his breath smelled after lunch, or “just had a feeling” about him- the decision would be made based on a mathematical calculation considering objective and nondiscriminatory characteristics.

Can we do it? Can we build a Netflixian recommendation engine for selection decisions? Absolutely. The question we need to ask is should we


Jul 022012

Who invented equal opportunity? According to Frank Dobbin, Ph.D., a Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, it was personnel experts inside major corporations. In his book Inventing Equal Opportunity, he argues that virtually all of the anti-discrimination policies we have in place today can be traced back to this one professional group.

According to Christine Williams’ review, published in Gender & Society, August 2010: “Dobbin’s book is an eye-opening account of how a professional group used demands for equal opportunity to expand its professional jurisdiction… The good news is that through their policies and programs, these experts heightened expectations for fair treatment and promoted a more sociological understanding of racism and sexism inside organizations. The bad news is that many of these programs do not really work. Although we have yet to figure out what does work, this book makes it clear that corporations should never have been entrusted with inventing equal opportunity.”

In this week’s episode of The Proactive Employer, we’re joined by Dr. Dobbin for a conversation about the origins of equal opportunity, the relationship between the courts and human resources departments, why compliance is a “moving target”,  and the future of equal opportunity.

This show will air live on Thursday, July 5th at 3 PM Eastern / 12 Noon Pacific on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel.

Tweet your questions using the hashtag #TPE or call in at 1-866-472-5790 to talk to our guests. The show will be available for on-demand listening at The Proactive Employer website, on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel and via iTunes following the broadcast.




Jun 152012

Are women having their employee rights taken away and facing discrimination in an effort to maintain some men’s right to privacy? It seems what started as a policy to address a privacy issue has escalated into a discrimination lawsuit supported by the federal government.

Last year, twenty-one female guards at the Summit County Jail in Ohio filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming that they are being demoted and barred from most jobs overseeing male inmates. The issue stems from a personnel policy enacted to address county officials’ concern over inmate privacy and the oversight, by female guards, of male inmates during showers and strip searches.

According to the jail, female guards with seniority were bidding on jobs in which they would jeopardize the privacy of inmates. Responding to the suit, jail commander, Gary James, said in an affidavit, “The three work shifts at the jail need to have a proper number of deputies assigned by gender in order to conduct strip searches, showers and not violate the inmates’ right to privacy.”

The women claim discrimination and violation of their own rights since the policy seriously limits their job options. Under the policy, they are assigned mostly to female inmates who account for a mere 18 percent of the inmate population. One of the female guards involved in the suit alleges that the policy cost the shift assignment she had held since 2005 and that she was forced to take a step backwards in her career.

Speaking on behalf of the jail and in favor of its staffing policy, James contends that only 16 of the 21 guards who filed the lawsuit were affected in any way and that none of the guards employed at the jail have been or would be subjected to change in salary, benefits or job title. Likewise, the potential for promotions is unaffected by the policy.

Attorney Bruce Elfvin, who is representing the guards, said it is the first time in many years he has seen such segregation of jobs and Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division believes the case is of important public interest and just last week sought the permission of a judge to back the guards in their case.

The federal intervention, according to Perez, is intended to signal a commitment to “vigorously enforcing the right of employees to be free from sex discrimination in the work place.”

The lawsuit is seeking an end to the alleged discrimination as well as monetary damages. A trial date has been set for August 2013, which allows significant time for negotiations and opportunity to come to an agreement outside of court. Apparently, there has already been some talk of settlement and Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said her office, which represents the sheriff’s department, is “trying to work out a resolution that is beneficial to all of the parties.”