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Equal Pay and Discrimination Against Women

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 is a federal law that prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of gender. The EPA is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act and was enacted to rectify the pay inequity that existed (and still persists today) between men and women who perform the same job duties.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed one year after the EPA and expanded workers' rights with respect to discrimination in the workplace. While the EPA only addressed pay discrimination between men and women, Title VII prohibits all forms of employment discrimination (for promotions, hiring, firing, wages, etc. ) based on ageracereligionnational origindisabilitypregnancysexual orientation, and gender.

This article distinguishes between the EPA and Title VII when an individual is interested in making a claim against discrimination.

The Equal Pay Act

The EPA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages or benefits, where men and women perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions. The EPA governs the conduct of all employers--federal, state, and local governments as well as private employers.

Proving a Claim

To bring a claim under the EPA, the employee must include:

  1. An employee of the opposite gender,
  2. The employee is working for the same employer and performing substantially the same job,
  3. The employee is receiving unequal (i.e. less) pay

Employers can justify a pay differential by proving the pay difference is the result of:

  1. A seniority system;
  2. A merit system;
  3. A system that measures the quantity or quality of work; or
  4. Any reason other than gender.

What Qualifies as Equal Work?

The job in question does not have to be identical but rather needs to be substantially the same. Job descriptions and titles are irrelevant, what counts is the actual work being done. Under the EPA, two jobs are considered equal when they require equal levels of (1) skill, (2) effort, and (3) responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions at the same worksite (generally).

Minor differences in skill, effort, or responsibility will be disregarded and the jobs will generally still be considered the same. If one employee has extra skills or duties deemed important, however, it is legal for the employer to pay that employee more than a counterpart. Under the EPA, two jobs will be considered unequal, even if they involve similar duties if the majority of those doing one job spend a significant amount of time doing additional tasks that do require additional skills, efforts, and responsibilities. If, on the other hand, employers consistently favor one gender in doling out these extra duties (and therefore, extra compensation), courts will look at these situations unfavorably.

Procedures for Filing an EPA Claim

EPA claims do not need to be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unlike claims under Title VII (more below), but a provisional claim should be filed with the EEOC so that remedies under Title VII are not lost.

The statute of limitations for filing an EPA claim is two years for non-willful violations and three years for willful violations. Courts will look to see if the employers' acts were "willful," meaning that the employer knew their action was a violation of the EPA and did it anyway.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII is a broad anti-employment discrimination law that bars all forms of discrimination in the workplace -- including gender, race, national origin, and religion — in the hiring, firing promotion, and pay of employees. Title VII covers only employers who have employed 15 or more employees for at least 20 weeks in the previous and current calendar year. Under Title VII, individuals have 180 days to file a charge.

Because Title VII is broader and encompasses the gender wage discrimination of the EPA, there is a great deal of crossover claims.

Procedures for Filing a Title VII Claim

Under Title VII, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the EEOC must grant you a "right to sue" letter before you can sue your employer in federal court.

You must file a Title VII claim within 180 days of the receipt of a paycheck that reflects gender wage discrimination. This is the result of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama.

Filing EPA Claims vs. Title VII Claims

Where both the EPA and Title VII claims overlap, there are advantages and potential disadvantages to both.

Factors in favor of filing under the EPA:

  1. No need to wait to file a complaint with the EEOC.
  2. If you work for a company with fewer than 15 employees you can sue under the EPA.
  3. EPA claims, unlike Title VII claims, do not need to prove the discrimination was intentional. Proving intent is difficult and makes EPA claims easier to win in court.
  4. Longer statute of limitations -- two or three years (depending on whether the discrimination was willful or not) for EPA claims and 180 days for Title VII claims.

The biggest factor in favor of filing under Title VII is that you can win more money – not only can you recover lost wages, but you can seek money for pain and suffering, too.

Filing an Equal Pay Discrimination Claim? Talk to an Attorney First

Whether you choose to file under the EPA or Title VII, or both, you should be aware of the requirements for each, as well as the statutes of limitation. Applying these laws can be confusing and the facts of your individual circumstances will be necessary.

Contact a local employment law attorney to discuss your case and learn how they can help ensure your fair treatment.

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