Rights, Policies Equal Pay Act: The Same Work Deserves the Same Pay

It would seem common sense that people who perform the same work and at the same level of quality should be paid the same, but this isn't always the case. The U.S. government created laws to ensure fairness in the workplace and promote equal pay laws.

Men and women doing the same job should receive the same compensation.

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal law which states that men and women must be paid the same amount of money for doing the same job. This law came into existence in 1963 and was an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. § 206).

The Equal Pay Act was passed in order to protect both men and women from being discriminated against when it comes to pay. The primary problem it sought to address was wage disparity that women were experiencing in the workplace. The majority of the situations where this law has been enforced has been to help women who have been paid a lower amount than a man for doing the same job.

Coverage: Who Does the Law Cover?

Almost all employees are covered by the EPA and it applies to state governments (such as New York State), the federal government, local governments and nearly all private employers (such as a private company operating in the state of New Jersey.)

Claims: How to Make a Claim

In order to make a successful claim under the EPA you have to show that a male and a female employee both:
  • work for the same company / place
  • perform the same job (equal work)
  • do not get paid the same for the same work (unequal pay)

While a claim may be made by an employee based upon the above criteria, an employer can dispute the claim on the grounds that the higher earner has more experience or has seniority and if he can prove this then it will mean that the claim is defeated.

Assessment: How to Determine Equal Work

A court can determine that two jobs are equal even if they are not identical. It will not matter whether the job titles or job descriptions are different provided that the actual work that is being done is the same. The only thing that actually matters is the list of duties for the employee is the same. In legal terms and being a little more specific, two jobs will be considered equal under the Equal Pay Act if both jobs require equal skill levels, equal effort, equal responsibility and that the jobs are carried out under similar conditions.

While this general framework can be interpreted in many different ways, there is a general rule that if the difference between skill, effort and responsibility is only small then the jobs should still be considered to be equal. The main problem would occur if there were two jobs which were more or less the same apart from a few extra duties for one job. While it is legal to pay more for the job with the extra duties, it is not legal to reserve these jobs consistently for a particular gender.

Explanation: What Does "Equal Pay" Mean?

According to the Equal Pay Act, all employees must be paid at the same rate but the amount of compensation that they receive can be different if one worker earns more because of a higher rate of productivity such as in the case of sales where one worker had made more sales than the other.

When it comes to the EPA, it is not only wages which are covered. Fringe benefits are also included and employees doing the same work are entitled to equal coverage for health insurance as well as equal retirement plans, pensions or savings accounts etc. Other types of compensation are included too such as holiday time off, bonuses and profit sharing plans and more of the same.

Federal Law: Title VII – The Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed one year after the EPA and both laws prevent an employer from wage discrimination based on the gender of the worker. However Title VII is not just there to just cover equal pay – it covers discrimination in every aspect of employment which includes, interviewing, hiring, promotion and firing. And Title VII does not just cover gender discrimination but discrimination in all forms such as on race, religion, nationality and age.

An Example Employment Discrimination Case

Joanne is telephone operator working for a large bus company based in New York City. Around half of all the operators who work in the same office in New York City are male and are all are paid approximately $2.50 more per hour than any of the female operators. The bus company also insists on a specific dress code for the women but does not require or may not enforce a similar dress code for the men with any regularity.

In this example, Joanne could make a complaint for discrimination against her employer based on the information above and the Equal Pay Act would cover the wage difference between the male and female agents. However both the wage difference and the dress code issue would be covered under Title VII.

Lawsuits: Should I File A Case Under the Title VII or the EPA?

In some cases, there could be claims filed under Title VII the EPA. However, there are distinct benefits in filing under each. Benefits filing under Title VII include:
  • You can receive potentially greater damages under Title VII since you can request compensation for lost earnings and also seek compensatory damages for any suffering or pain you experienced as a result of the discrimination.
  • An EPA case does not provide the same compensatory damages although you can request damages for twice the amount of wages that you had lost.
Benefits of filing under the EPA include the following:
  • You do not have to file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) before you can file a lawsuit under the EPA.
  • Under the EPA, you do not have to prove that the employer was intentional in his discrimination as you do with Title VII. This makes it easier to win a case under the EPA.

Regardless of the type of discrimination lawsuit you are seeking to file, Title VII, the EPA or both, it is highly advisable for you to speak to a lawyer. A lawyer will be able to advise you on the best course of action before you file your case and may also be provided at no cost since many attorneys do take employment discrimination cases on contingency fees – taking a percentage of the amount of the award.

For more information about employment discrimination and fair employment practices, you can contact your local EEOC office or your state fair employment practices agency. They will also be able to provide assistance with legal rules, guidelines and information on equal pay and discrimination based on gender.
Employment & Labor
Fair Labor Standards Act
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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