Although the United States has made strides to reduce the prevalence of discrimination against women in the workplace, the fact remains that sex discrimination is a serious problem with real consequences for working women. When a woman is paid less than a man who has the same qualifications and does the same work, she misses out not only on lost wages, but also on wage-related benefits, like Social Security and disability.
Federal law provides women with a tool for combatting sex-based pay discrepancies. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), 29 U.S.C. 206(d), which applies to most U.S. employers with at least 15 employees, prohibits sex-based wage differences between otherwise equivalent employees who perform the same job. Although the EPA protects both men and women from sex-based wage discrimination, but its chief effect is to prevent discrimination against women. To protect their rights, working women should take the time to understand when the EPA applies.
Not every kind of pay discrimination is unlawful, because differences in pay are often justifiable. However, when two people of equal skill perform the same job, one expects them to get the same pay, including not only wages but also other benefits. That is what the EPA is primarily designed to ensure.
Gathering facts for an EPA claim
On its face, a claim under the EPA requires a fairly simple set of facts about the employee and an employee of the opposite sex. First, both employees must work in the same establishment. Second, both employees must be doing equal work, with equal skill. Third, the employees must be receiving unequal pay.
This simple-sounding fact pattern can be tricky to establish in the real world. Two employees may be doing the same work but have different titles or different job descriptions. Courts tend to disregard such labels to get at the nature of the work itself. Subtle differences between workers’ responsibilities can make or break a case; a few extra responsibilities can justify differences in pay, and the question then becomes if those extra responsibilities are offered without sex bias. Gathering facts and putting them together into a coherent claim can require expert guidance.
Exceptions where pay differences are allowed
The EPA makes exceptions for pay differences that are based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system based on quantity or quality of production (such as sales volume), or some other differential that is not based on sex. An employer can help itself comply with the EPA and other anti-discrimination statutes by uniformly adhering to a clear compensation policy that does not leave room for sex-based decision-making.
Getting help from the EEOC
Women who feel they have suffered sex-based pay discrimination can reach out to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the EPA. Starting a claim at the EEOC takes some work, but under the right circumstances the EEOC will pursue actions on the employee’s behalf, including filing litigation. The EEOC can recover damages on behalf of victims of discrimination, and can impose remedial requirements on employers.
Because an EEOC action can have important consequences for a worker’s rights, we recommend working with an attorney. If you think your rights under the EPA have been violated and would like to speak with an attorney, we would be happy to give you a free consultation. Call us today at 702-388-4476, or send us an email through our contact page.