By law, women must be paid the same as men for the same work at the same place. However, this frequently doesn’t happen. In 2016, women were paid roughly 77 percent of what men were paid, and would have had to work until April 4, 2017, to earn the same amount.
The Equal Pay Act has been in the news lately. Last year, five members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team filed a complaint against U.S. Soccer, claiming they were victims of sex-based wage discrimination. As a result, they’ve recently announced a new, significantly larger, salary contract for the entire team. Google also has been under fire for sex-based pay discrimination, despite their claims that they’d eliminated sex-based pay disparities.
Why don’t more women avail themselves of the law? It isn’t new.
The Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
A woman making an EPA claim may go directly to court and isn’t required to file a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She must file a claim, either with the EEOC or by filing suit with an appropriate court, within two years of the violation date. However, if the EPA violation was willful, then she has three years to make a claim.
The remedy for a violation of the EPA is a salary increase and up to two years’ back pay in the amount of the unlawful difference between the wages of the lower- and higher-paid employees. (The law prohibits lowering the pay of any employee to correct a discriminatory pay differential.) In addition, the EPA permits recovery of an equal amount as liquidated damages. If the violation was willful, then the successful claimant is entitled to three years’ back pay. A successful claimant is also entitled to recover her attorney’s fees and costs.
To demonstrate a violation, a person making a claim must show that she received a lower wage than the employer paid to a male employee at the same establishment; and the employees performed substantially equal work (in terms of skill, effort and responsibility) under similar working conditions. A woman making a claim cannot compare herself to a hypothetical male; instead, she must show that a specific employee of the opposite sex earned higher compensation for a substantially equal job. If the employer can’t defeat the showing of unequal pay for substantially equal work, then to successfully defend the claim, it must prove that the compensation difference is based on a seniority, merit, or incentive system, or on any other factor other than sex.
However, the National Labor Relations Act allows employees to discuss wages and salaries among themselves. The NLRA covers most, but not all private sector employees. The NLRA doesn’t cover public-sector employees or supervisors. But, this rule also applies to federal contractors, pursuant to an executive order issued by President Obama in April 2014.
In summary, employers would be wise to audit their pay practices to ensure compliance with the Equal Pay Act.