Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal statute that prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility, under similar working conditions.  The statute protects both men and women.  The statute also bars retaliation against employees for asserting their rights under the statute.

The Equal Pay Act applies to employers throughout the country, regardless of size, that engage in interstate commerce, including federal, state, and local governments.

The EPA provides:  “No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex:  Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee.”  29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1).

As explained by the EEOC:  “The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.  The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal.  Job content (not job titles) determines whether jobs are substantially equal.  All forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits.”  Unlike Title VII, the Equal Pay Act does not require proof of intent to discriminate.

If an employee proves wage discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act, the remedies available under the statute include back pay, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.  Compensatory damages and punitive damages are not available under the EPA.

An individual alleging a violation of the Equal Pay Act may go directly to court and is not required to file an administrative complaint with either the EEOC or the U.S. Department of Labor beforehand.  The time limits for going to court are:  within two years of the alleged wage discrimination or, in the case of a willful violation, within three years.

Because the rules and procedures under the Equal Pay Act are complicated, an employee should discuss his or her complaints of wage discrimination promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.

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