DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been working on a freelance project that is interesting but also low-paying. Recently, I was asked to do another project for this company for an even lower price. I debated with the project manager, giving arguments for why I thought I deserved a higher rate, but to no avail.
On the first day of work, I spoke with a colleague about the fee, as I was told previously that our roles were paid the same rate. Shockingly, I learned that he was being paid a higher rate than me. I am so upset. I know that we live in a country where women still make less than men, but I didn’t think it would be this blatant. I am furious. Yes, I need this gig, but I can’t act like I don’t know this. How should I proceed? -- Unequal Pay, Chicago
DEAR UNEQUAL PAY: I’m sorry that this happened to you, even though, sadly, it is common. If you are ready for a fight, speak up. Address the pay discrepancy with your boss -- preferably in writing. Send a note directly to your boss stating what you learned about pay scale discrepancies. Be specific, and express your surprise to learn that the rates were different, given your previous assurance that these roles received equal pay. Ask for your fee to be revised retroactively for the current project.
If your boss does not respond with an agreement to pay you the same rate or a promise to look into it and get back to you immediately, engage a lawyer. You can find an attorney who specializes in discrimination suits who can help you draft a more formal complaint letter where you point out the discrimination and request fair compensation. Generally, these attorneys will work with you to get a settlement without taking pay until you receive an award. What you don’t want to do is quit. You have no leverage with the company if you no longer work there.