Woman Claims Retaliation for Complaining of Sex Discrimination in Pay

January 20, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - An employee of Penn Millers Insurance Co. of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is seeking more than $80,000 on claims that she was fired as an underwriter after complaining of being paid less than her male counterparts.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reports that the employer claims she was fired because of her work performance and not in retaliation or due to her gender.

According to the complaint, Karen Martinelli was hired for a second time by Penn Millers in February 1995. She says the company hired a man to a similar position a year later and paid him a higher salary, then hired a man in May 2001 at a higher salary and gave him a $10,000 signing bonus.

After she complained about the pay discrepancies to a company vice-president in August of 2001 and was referred to a human resources manager, who did not address her complaint, she was placed on probation, allegedly for complaining about pay discrepancies, according to the suit.

Martinelli filed a sexual discrimination charge in January 2002 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After the charge was filed, the company placed her under intense scrutiny and withheld her evaluation and salary increase in February 2002. She told a supervisor that she knew why she was being treated in a hostile manner, the complaint says, and the supervisor responded that the company had received her EEOC filing. Martinelli was fired the following day, and the EEOC eventually found that she had probable cause for her complaints.

Penn Millers contests the allegations, including the pay differences. They pointed to three errors on insurance policies made by Martinelli, one for which the company had to pay a $1 million claim.