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U.S. Department of Justice Sues Wisconsin’s Military Affairs Over Sex Discrimination

Michelle Hartness worked for the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs (WDMA) for four years, receiving a promotion and good performance evaluations. When a director position just one step above opened, Hartness applied, along with 20 other individuals. The published job announcement listed an annual salary of $79,040 to $91,250. The hiring panel ranked Hartness in the top two of qualified applicants, and the hiring official offered her the position. However, WMDA offered her a salary below the posted range and 11% below that of the lowest male director. Hartness pointed out to WDMA that it offered her a salary less than the posted range. WDMA purportedly responded by offering her the lowest amount in the salary range. Hartness asked for a salary consistent with her qualifications and equal to what the male director holding a comparable position earned. The WDMA rejected her request, and Hartness turned down the offer.

According to the complaint filed by the Justice Department, WDMA re-posted the position and conducted another selection process. It offered the director position to several male candidates at higher salaries than it offered Hartness, even though she was equally qualified. The male applicant who ultimately accepted the job was less qualified than Hartness but received a salary commensurate with other directors.

Hartness filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, which investigated the allegations. The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe the WMDA discriminated against Hartness based on her sex.