Equal pay bills seek to address the issue of wage disparities between men and women. One such bill that became law was the Equal Pay Act (EPA). Signed into law in 1963, the EPA made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. At that time, women were only paid 59 cents to every dollar paid to men. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the EPA has helped narrow the wage gap, significant disparities still remain. Even today, women typically make only 80 cents for every dollar made by men.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a pending bill that would update and strengthen the EPA in important ways.

The Provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act will help to ensure that all individuals receive equal pay for the same work, regardless of gender. The following are among the main provisions of the Act.

1) Modification of the “Establishment” Requirement

Wage comparisons may be made between employees working at the same “establishment." That is, an employer cannot pay a male employee more than a female employee for the same job simply because he is located across town. Comparisons can be made between employees in workplaces in the same county.

2) Closing Loopholes in the Employer Defense
Under the current EPA, even if there is a pay difference, employers accused of gender discrimination in wages can assert a defense. As long as employers can prove that the pay difference was based on factors other than sex, no violation of the EPA would be found. However, this defense was sometimes interpreted very broadly. The Paycheck Fairness Act would tighten the EPA so that this loophole is closed.

3) Limitations on Wage History in the Hiring Process

The Paycheck Fairness Act would also prohibit employers from relying on a prospective employee’s wage history. This would ensure that pay discrimination and disparities no longer follow individuals from job to job. Moreover, employers would be prohibited from screening applicants based on their wage history. An employer can only rely on wage history if the prospective employee voluntarily offers the wage history.

4) Protection from Retaliation for Discussing Pay

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for discussing wages with coworkers. Furthermore, employees cannot contract away or waive their rights to discuss and disclose pay.

5) Enhancing Equal Pay Act Remedies

When there are weak remedies for pay discrimination, it means that employers can come out ahead by gambling that they will not get caught. However, the Paycheck Fairness Act will toughen the provisions of the EPA that deal with remedies. The EPA currently provides for liquidated damages and back pay awards. These tend to be insubstantial. The Paycheck Fairness Act will allow plaintiffs who prevail to recover compensatory and punitive damages.

6) The Facilitation of Class Action

Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, women can come together and challenge company-wide pay discrimination in court through a class action lawsuit that conforms with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). Class actions ensure that relief will be provided to all those who are injured by the unlawful practice. Currently, it is quite difficult to bring EPA suits as class actions. This is because the EPA was adopted prior to the current federal class action rule and it requires plaintiffs to opt in to a suit. However, under the Paycheck Fairness Act, class members would be automatically considered part of the class. That is, unless they choose to opt out of the class.

Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Think I’m Experiencing Pay Discrimination Based on My Gender?

Challenging the pay disparity at work can be a difficult experience. If you think that you are experiencing pay discrimination at your workplace and want to rectify it, you may want some advice for how to go about the matter. An experienced employment lawyer can talk to you about your options before you proceed with any action.