The Gender Gap and the Need for Equal Pay Laws
For years, there has been a persistent gender pay gap in the United States. According to data from the National Women’s Law Center, women on average earn only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gap is even wider for women of color, with Black women earning only 63 cents and Latina women earning only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
This gap exists despite the fact that federal and state laws prohibit gender-based pay discrimination. In this post, we will discuss the legal protections available to employees who are victims of pay discrimination, and the steps that individuals can take to assert their rights.
The Legal Protections Against Pay Discrimination – Equal Pay for Comparable Work
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a federal law that prohibits employers from paying employees of one gender less than employees of the opposite gender for work that is substantially the same. This law applies to all employers who engage in interstate commerce, including most private employers, as well as federal, state, and local governments.
In addition to the Equal Pay Act, many states have their own equal pay laws. For example, in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) prohibits employers from paying employees of one gender less than employees of the opposite gender for comparable work. MEPAwas enacted in 1945, and updated substantially in 2018. It also provides broader protections than the federal Equal Pay Act, including prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their salary history, and requiring employers to justify pay disparities based on factors other than gender.
Under these laws, employees who have been paid less than their counterparts of the opposite gender for comparable work can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or their state’s fair employment practices agency. The EEOC or state agency will investigate the complaint, and if they find that pay discrimination has occurred, they may take legal action against the employer, and/or award damages to the employee.
Of course, not every pay difference is a violation of the equal pay laws. For example, differences that result from seniority, merits systems, travel requirements, sales quantity, and the like may very well be permissible.
Most importantly, employers may NO longer use salary histories as a defense to equal pay violations. They may NO longer prohibit employees from discussing their wages with one another, and they may NO longer require applicants to disclose salary history as part of the interview process.
It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for reporting pay discrimination. Retaliation can take many forms, including termination, demotion, or other adverse employment actions. Employees who have been retaliated against for reporting pay discrimination can file a complaint with the EEOC or their state’s fair employment practices agency.
Under federal law, the EEOC enforces the anti-retaliation provisions of the Equal Pay Act, as well as other anti-discrimination laws. In addition to filing a complaint with the EEOC, employees who have been retaliated against for reporting pay discrimination can also file a lawsuit against their employer for damages.
What to Do Next: Reporting and Seeking Remedies
If you believe that you have been the victim of pay discrimination, there are several steps that you can take to assert your rights.
- Gather evidence: If you suspect that you have been paid less than your counterparts of the opposite gender for comparable work, gather evidence to support your claim. This can include pay stubs, performance evaluations, job descriptions, and any other documentation that shows that you have been treated differently than your colleagues.
- Report the discrimination: Once you have gathered evidence, report the discrimination to your employer’s human resources department, or to the EEOC or your state’s fair employment practices agency. Be sure to provide as much detail as possible, including the names of the individuals involved, the dates of the alleged discrimination, and the specific ways in which you were treated differently than your colleagues.
- Consider seeking legal assistance: If you are unsure of how to proceed, or if you believe that your employer is retaliating against you for reporting the discrimination, consider seeking legal assistance from an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options, and can advocate on your behalf to ensure that you receive the remedies to which you are entitled.
In conclusion, equal pay laws provide important protections for employees who have been the victims of pay discrimination based on gender. If you believe that you have been paid less than your counterparts of the opposite gender for comparable work, it is important to understand your legal rights.