Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) covers almost all workers, and regulated the conduct of local, state, and federal governments as well as most private employers. The National War Labor Board initially advocated for equal pay back in 1942; an equal pay act was actually proposed in 1945. However, it wasn’t until eighteen years later that President John F. Kennedy signed the EPA into law in 1963. This was one year prior to the passing of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EPA was implemented as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Both laws prohibit wage discrimination due to gender; however, Title VII provides for increased protection by guaranteeing equal pay and prohibiting discrimination in every aspect of employment, including the interview process, hiring, and firing.

The EPA provides some advantages over Title VII in that you can file a lawsuit under the EPA without needing to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Furthermore, unlike Title VII, the EPA doesn’t require proof that the employer acted intentionally when discriminating against an employee.

However, a benefit to the Title VII is that you can win more money in a lawsuit; the employee can ask the judge or jury for lost wages as well as compensation for pain and suffering. The EPA doesn’t award such compensatory damages. Therefore, if an employee is considering bringing a suit under the EPA or Title VII, it is best to speak with a qualified employment attorney.

Some reasons were provided as to why the EPA was enacted, specifically including:

  • Women had higher turnover rates due to unequal pay.

  • State laws prohibited women from working at night

  • Other laws limited the number of hours women could work

  • Laws limited the amount of weight women could carry on the job, thereby reducing a number of jobs in which women could perform.

  • In the 1950s, two-thirds of families had a breadwinning husband and stay-at-home wife. Therefore, a woman’s income was not crucial to the household nor was it expected during that time.

What do Courts Look For?

  • Most courts will look to a variety of things, the most important being the job duties. Therefore, if the male has a higher job title and earns more, courts could still determine that there is in fact unequal pay if the female counterpart is still engaging in the same job duties.

  • Courts look at the skill, effort, and responsibility required of the position.

  • While companies will try to get around unequal pay by providing men with more job duties, courts can still determine that such additional job duties shouldn’t only be reserved for men.

  • While the EPA requires equal pay, it doesn’t require that employees receive the same total amount of compensation. Therefore, for those receiving bonuses, if the man is given a higher bonus than his female counterpart, the female will probably not have a case on her hands. However, there could be certain instances in which a female will have a valid complaint if she can prove that her bonus was far less than her male counterpart, and the level of productivity was identical

  • Such employees are also entitled to equal fringe benefits, including health and life insurance coverage, retirement plans, stock options, reimbursements, expenses, and other health-related savings account, etc. All employees must receive identical benefits, regardless of gender, income, or level of seniority.

Making a Claim

To make a claim under the EPA, you must prove that you and another employee of the opposite sex are working in the same position, doing the same type of work, but receiving unequal pay. Generally, these claims are brought by women indicating that their male counterparts make more money than them. You need not wait for any reason before filing the claim. You don’t have to provide proof of the discrimination. But you must file the claim within 180 days of the discriminatory action in order to preserve your rights under the law.

Steps to Filing a Claim under the EPA

  • Record the discriminatory practices that are taking place at work.

  • Keep records of everything, including your salary, communications with your employer regarding other violations, etc.

  • Talk to your employer. Identify your concerns and indicate that the company has violated the rules under the EEOC. Remember to keep records of such communications. It is best to have everything in writing. Some employers offer mediation in which the employer and employee sit in a room with an HR representative and mediator to work out the issues.

  • Speak to friends and family. They are there to help you through this difficult time. Always remember that you are doing the right thing. Voicing your concerns over unequal pay is important not only for you, but for others facing the same discrimination.

  • If you aren’t ready to file a formal complaint with the EEOC, you can still reach out to the commission and speak with a counselor regarding your rights. The EEOC may even investigate the matter further to see if colleagues are in a similar position as you.

  • If you wish, you can speak to a qualified employment lawyer who can also assist you during this time.

Gender Gap Over the Years

There have been several disputes over the years regarding gender pay inequality; it has been stated that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. However, most unequal pay can be seen in those women entering childbearing years. The median salary of a childless woman under the age of 30 was actually 8 percent more than her male counterpart. This is due to the fact that more women are obtaining college degrees than men. However, the wage gap increases when women enter their 30s, as men can be seen making more money than their female counterparts who are at least 31 years of age. In fact, the number of pregnancy and maternity discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC has increased since the late 1990s. Most employers will fail to even hire women if they can see that she is pregnant. While this is illegal, employers can simply avoid legal suits by stating that the individual wasn’t fit for the job.

Even today there remain issues regarding unequal pay in the workplace. Not only are there continuous issues regarding the different in pay between genders, but also the difference in pay based on someone’s national origin, race, sexual preference, and other protected traits. Unfortunately, there is a very fine line between being discriminated against regarding income and a company getting around the rules by stating that such employees don’t have the requisite background and experience needed to earn a higher income. As previously mentioned, companies interviewing job candidates can even discriminate against someone due to the color of his or her hair, whether or not the person has visible tattoos, and if the person isn’t someone that the employer would ordinarily hire. While such discrimination is illegal under many laws, including the EPA and Title VII, it still takes place on a daily basis, making it rather hard for those potential employees to argue that they aren’t being chosen for the job due to a trait rather than not having the required experience.

If you need help learning more about the EPA, and your rights and responsibilities as an employer or employee, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.