Raising the Ante
CASE 11.3 Raising the Ante
Having spearheaded the women’s cause on behalf of equal pay for jobs of equal value, Phyllis Warren was elated when the board decided to readjust salaries. Its decision meant Phyllis and the other women employed by the manufacturing firm would receive pay equivalent to men doing work of comparable worth. But in a larger sense it con-stituted an admission of guilt by the board, acknowledgment of a history blemished by implicit sexual discrimination. In the euphoria that followed the board’s decision, neither Phyllis nor any of the other activists thought much about the implied admission of female exploitation. But some weeks later, Herm Leggett, a sales dispatcher, half- jokingly sug-gested to Phyllis over lunch that she shouldn’t stop with equal pay now. Phyllis asked Herm what he meant. “ Back pay,” Herm said without hesitation. “ If they’re readjusting salaries for women,” he explained, “ they obviously know that salaries are out of line and have been for some time.” Then he asked her pointedly, “ How long you been here, Phyl?” Eleven years, she told him. “ If those statistics you folks were passing around last month are accurate,” Herm said, “ then I’d say you’ve been losing about $ 2,000 a year, or $ 22,000 over eleven years.” Then he added with a laugh, “ Not counting interest, of course.” “ Why not?” Phyllis thought. Why shouldn’t she and other women who’d suffered past inequities be reimbursed? That night Phyllis called a few of the other women and suggested that they press the board for back pay. Some said they were satisfied and didn’t think they should force the issue. Others thought the firm had been fair in readjusting the salary schedule, and they were willing to let bygones be bygones. Still others thought that any further efforts might, in fact, roll back the board’s favorable decision. Yet a nucleus agreed that workers who had been unfairly treated in the past ought to receive compensation. They decided, however, that because their ranks were divided, they shouldn’t wage as intense an in- house campaign as previously but instead take the issue directly to the board, while it might still be inhaling deeply the fresh air of social responsibility. The following Wednesday, Phyllis and four other women presented their case to the board, intentionally giving the impression that they enjoyed as much support from other workers as they had the last time they appeared before it. Although this wasn’t true, Phyllis suggested it as an effective strategic ploy. Phyllis’s presentation had hardly ended when board mem-bers began making their feelings known. One called her proposal “ industrial blackmail.” “ No sooner do we try to right an injustice,” he said testily, “ than you take our good faith and threaten to beat us over the head with it unless we comply with your request.” Another member just as vigorously argued that the cur-rent board couldn’t be held accountable for the actions, poli-cies, and decisions of previous boards. “ Sure,” he said, “ we’re empowered to alter policies as we see fit and as conditions change to chart new directions. And we’ve done that. But to expect us to bear the full financial liability of decisions we never made is totally unrealistic— and unfair.” Still another member wondered where it would all end. “ If we agree,” he asked, “ will you then suggest we should track down all those women who ever worked for us and provide them compensation?” Phyllis said no, but the board should readjust retirement benefits for those affected. At this point the board asked Phyllis if she had any idea what her proposal would cost the firm. “ Whatever it is, it’s a small price to pay for righting wrong,” she said firmly. “ But is it a small price to pay for severely damaging our profit picture?” one of the members asked. Then he added, “ I needn’t remind you that our profit outlook directly affects what we can offer our current employees in terms of salary and fringe benefits. It directly affects our ability to revise our salary schedule.” Finally, he asked Phyllis whether she’d accept the board’s reducing everyone’s current compensa-tion to meet what Phyllis termed the board’s “ obligation to the past.” Despite its decided opposition to Phyllis’s proposal, the board agreed to consider it and render a decision at its next meeting. As a final broadside, Phyllis hinted that, if the board didn’t comply with the committee’s request, the committee was prepared to pursue legal action.
1. If you were a board member, how would you vote? Why?
2. What moral principles are involved in this case?
3. Do you think Phyllis Warren was unfair in taking advantage of the board’s implied admission of salary discrimination on the basis of sex? Why or why not?
4. Do you think Phyllis was wrong in giving the board the impression that her proposal enjoyed broad support? Why or why not?
5. If the board rejects the committee’s request, do you think the committee ought to sue? Give reasons.
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