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Friday, February 23, 2018

Who has your Company's Dirty Laundry?

Manheim Remarketing hired Qunesha Bowen as an automobile detailer, and three years later promoted her to arbitration manager. Bowen replaced a male arbitration manager who was paid $46,350 during his first year as arbitration manager. But Bowen’s starting salary was set at $32,000 and her salary did not reach $46,350 until her sixth year as arbitration manager.

After learning about the pay disparity with her male predecessor, Bowen sued Manheim in Federal Court under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Bowen offered in support of her claims: (1) documents and testimony about her performance and salary history; and (2) affidavit testimony from Manheim’s HR Manager. The Court Order detailed the alleged facts below:

Bowen offered documents and testimony showing that, although she was an effective arbitration manager, her salary for a few years was below the minimum salary for arbitration managers and it was consistently well below the midpoint salary for arbitration managers. Manheim paid Bowen $37,001.60 in 2007; $41,000 in 2008; $46,075.63 in 2010; and $46,075.63 in 2011. But under Manheim’s compensation guidelines the midpoint salary for an arbitration manager was $49,400 in 2007; $52,900 in 2008; $55,500 in 2010; and $56,500 in 2011.

However, it was the affidavit of Manheim’s HR Director concerning her investigations into sex-based pay disparities at Manheim that turned the tide in Bowen’s favor:
  •  Comments from a 2007 employee survey that the HR Director conducted indicated that female employees were treated differently than male employees, (2) female employees were denied particular positions, and (3) a “good ole’ boy” system existed at Manheim.
  •  The 2007 survey results prompted the HR Director to conduct an investigation into sex- based disparities at Manheim where she gathered all of Manheim’s job postings and examined who applied and who interviewed for posted positions. Based on that review, she concluded that Manheim was excluding women from certain positions. While discussing a female employee’s application for an assistant general manager position with the general manager, she was told that Manheim would be “the laughing stock” of the community if it made such a hire and that he would never allow a female to work as a mechanic.
  •   In 2009, Manheim’s payroll administrator then ran a report comparing women’s and men’s pay and prior pay increases. This investigation revealed that women’s pay was “thousands of dollars less than men’s pay for the same jobs.”
  •    The HR Director reported her findings about sex-based pay disparities to the general manager, but he refused to address the disparities.

This week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that there was sufficient evidence to send Qunesha Bowen’s Equal Pay and Title VII case before a jury.

Common Sense Counsel: Employee Engagement Surveys are wonderful tools in the right hands but can be deadly to an organization when used by a frustrated HR Director. First, never conduct an employee engagement survey unless you, in good faith, plan to take action that will make a difference. Second, always conduct surveys and investigations of a sensitive nature under attorney-client privileged direction, or your company’s dirty laundry just might make the news!

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at