Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Woman's Paycheck Is Smaller Than Male Co-Worker's

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.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My family is beginning to plan our Christmas holiday vacation. Typically, we all meet at my sister’s house, which requires my husband, my kids and me to travel. This has worked out well over the years as we are able to drive and stay with her. We all have a great time, and it’s relatively affordable.

My sister now wants to move the gathering to Florida so that we can enjoy the warm weather and visit with another relative who lives down there. I’m worried that we cannot afford the plane tickets -- forget about the rest of the cost of the trip. My sister and her husband are doing well financially, but my husband and I have been struggling for the past few years. She knows this and is trying to be sensitive to everyone’s situation. What can I do to make it possible for my family to join the celebration? -- Family Gathering, Detroit

DEAR FAMILY GATHERING: Be more specific with your sister about your finances. Tell her you are concerned that the trip will be more expensive than you can afford. One way to defray the cost might be to see if she has airline miles from a credit card that she can use to “buy” you plane tickets. She might also consider renting a big house via Airbnb that has enough bedrooms for the whole family to stay together. This, too, will cut down significantly on costs.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)