Giving the Hand

Many people are familiar with the often-quoted statistic that women earn 80 cents for every 1 dollar earned by a man for performing the exact same work. But if you suspect equal pay discrimination, how can you pursue that matter in Court? This article explains the Equal Pay Act and how it can help you seek justice if you suspect a gender pay disparity.

The Equal Pay Act Explained

The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) is one of this country’s first anti-employment discrimination laws. Most federal employment anti-discrimination law was enacted during and shortly after the civil rights era during the mid-to-late 1960’s and early 1970’s; however, the EPA was enacted much earlier. The EPA is an Eisenhower-era law that specifically makes it illegal for an employer to pay a woman less than a man for performing exactly the same work.

Proving an EPA claim works by proving that a gender-pay gap exists by comparing the disparate pay rates of the genders. In other words, it is not enough for an aggrieved employee to say that generally, her work should be worth more than she is making. Instead she must identify a male employee working for the same business who performs the same work duties as she does and prove that he earns higher wages than she does for discriminatory reasons.

Finding a Comparator

As explained in the previous section, EPA claims are proved by comparing the payment received by different genders for performing the same work. The person against whom this comparison is made is known as a comparator. In general, a comparator must perform roughly the same type of work that the claimant performs, and the claimant must be able to prove that the comparator makes more money for no explainable reason.

In certain cases, finding a comparator is simple. This is particularly true in large companies such as in manufacturing or large retail outlets because many employees of both genders all perform the same tasks. To find a comparator under these circumstances, simply ask your fellow co-workers to compare salaries. In other circumstances; however, finding a comparator can be very difficult. Comparators are often difficult to locate in the small business environment, and for most potential claimants, their best options will be employees who perform similar, but not identical work to their own. In many cases, these similar employees can serve as comparators.

What About Title VII Gender Discrimination Protections?

A different federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes gender discrimination in employment illegal. Courts have consistently held that unequal pay is a form of employment discrimination, so why do most women file pay discrimination claims under the EPA rather than Title VII? The answer is that unfortunately, Title VII’s strict filing deadlines make it very difficult to timely file claims in situations where the unequal pay levels have persisted over long periods of time. As a result, Title VII is not usually the preferred way to sue for equal pay discrimination, but an experienced employment attorney should be able to provide advice as to whether an EPA claim or a Title VII claim is best under the specific circumstances.

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