Jobs that require the same skills, effort, and responsibility must provide workers with equal pay regardless of their sex. Employers have found many loopholes to excuse paying some employees more than others. Here’s what you need to know about pay discrimination.
Laws That Require Equal Pay
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibit compensation discrimination. The Equal Pay Act specifically prohibits gender-based inequality in pay, requiring that men and women be paid equally for jobs that require the same skills and impose the same responsibilities. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate compensation based on a person’s sex, race, color, national origin, or religion.
Compensation includes not just wages, but also overtime, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, reimbursements for business-related travel expenses, and benefits.
It’s often difficult to know if your employer pays you less than a co-worker doing the same or substantially equal work. Originally, Title VII required employees to file a wage discrimination claim within 180 days of the first time an employer paid unequal wages. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 “resets” the statute of limitations on filing a wage discrimination claim to start the clock ticking every time an employer issues an unfair paycheck.
Employees must first present wage discrimination claims under Title VII to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They determine if there is sufficient basis for a lawsuit. However, that intermediate step is unnecessary for claims brought under the Equal Pay Act.
Discriminatory Wages Are Unfair Wages
Unfair wages are wages that don’t meet minimum wage requirements. Employers give unfair wages if they fail to pay for overtime when it’s required, or when the wages get reduced due to wage theft. These practices violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. But unequal wages are also unfair wages if they disproportionately affect members of protected categories of people.
What To Do if You Find Out You’re Being Paid Less
In some situations, employers can permissibly pay an employee more for substantially equal work due to seniority, experience, or specific skills. Employers will produce any explanation for wage disparities that don’t involve protected categories. Some very small employers may not be covered by equal pay laws. Document everything you know about your wages or salary versus others in your workplace doing substantially equal work.
Contact an experienced equal pay lawyer for an assessment of your claim and advice about what to do next. Sometimes a firmly stated letter from an attorney, supported by documented evidence, may spur an employer to negotiate a solution without going to court. Other times, employers will dig in and try to wear you down with lengthy procedural maneuvering. Your lawyer will prepare you for what to expect from your case.