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Equal Pay Act

What Is The Equal Pay Act?

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a labor law that served to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination based on gender when it comes to paying workers in the U.S.

The main reason that the Equal Pay Act was passed into law was to address the prevalent issue of sex-based wage inequality. Before the passage of the Equal Pay Act, female workers were paid far less than their male counterparts. Even when male and female workers performed the same job, there was a disparity in pay. In addition, some states placed additional blocks on female workers earning money by restricting the hours that they were allowed to work or forbidding female workers from working at night.

Since the passage of the equal pay act, several other acts have been passed addressing unequal pay. These additional legislative measures include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Educational Amendment of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employers from discriminating against workers based on color, national origin, race, religion, or sex. Meanwhile, the Educational Amendment of 1972 is a direct amendment to the Equal Pay Act that expands its jurisdiction to include jobs that were initially omitted from the prior version including white-collar executives, professional jobs, and administrative positions.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 shored up the protections that pregnant workers may take advantage of. Finally, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act changed the statute of limitations for wage discrimination lawsuits from the beginning when the employer made the discriminatory decision to when the victim received their most recent paycheck.

Key Takeaways

  • The Equal Pay Act is a law that prohibits discriminatory wages based on the worker’s sex. 
  • The Equal Pay Act does allow for some unequal pay between workers of differing sexes based on seniority, merit, production, or non-sex-based reasons.
  • The entity responsible for hearing Equal Pay Act violations is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • If you have experienced a violation of the Equal Pay Act and want to seek justice, an experienced Employment Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

The Equal Pay Act and Employment Law

The Equal Pay Act is a cornerstone of the modern fight for wage equality. According to the law, no employer that falls under the Equal Pay Act’s jurisdiction may  discriminate “between employees based on sex.”

The Equal Pay Act is not omnipotent, however. Not all businesses are subject to its jurisdiction and even those who are are not necessarily in violation of the Equal Pay Act if two people of opposite sexes are paid differently. 

First, the Equal Pay Act does not apply to all places of employment. Any business under 15 employees is exempt as well as several classes of employees including:

  • Employee who catch, harvest, or farm seafood
  • Employees who process, can, or pack seafood products at sea
  • Employees who work on ships registered in other countries
  • Employees working at amusement parks, recreational centers, camps, or non-profit educational centers that do not operate for more than seven months
  • Farmers and ranchers
  • Qualified executive, administrative, or professional employees
  • Qualified teachers in elementary or secondary schools

These and several other employers are considered unable to violate the Equal Pay Act and therefore may not be eligible to be brought to court for discriminatory behavior.

Additionally, unequal pay may not necessarily be discriminatory under the Equal Pay Act. The Act itself has several carve-outs for cases where unequal pay is not discriminatory and perfectly legal. Those instances include:

  • Paying more senior employees higher wages
  • Paying employees more based on a merit system
  • Paying employees based on the quantity and quality of goods or services produced

In addition, section iv adds a general clause for unequal pay “other factor other than sex.” As long as the employer is not reducing an employee’s wage in these ways, any of these methods are valid reasons for unequal pay rates in a workplace.

The enforcement of the Equal Pay Act is the responsibility of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If a complaint is made to the commission alleging that an employer is operating in violation of the Equal Pay Act, the commission will investigate the allegations and, if true, pursue mediation or legal action.

Bottom Line

If your employer is engaging in discriminatory pay practices based on sex, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover back pay and damages. To do so, you will need the help of an Employment Law attorney.

An experienced Employment Law attorney will be able to consult with you to help achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney can subpoena evidence and take depositions that support your allegations and bring you to the just outcome that your case deserves.

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