Wage discrimination refers to an employer paying one employee less than other for substantially equal work and qualifications. This includes:
- Overtime pay;
- Profit sharing;
- Vacation and holiday pay;
- Stock options;
- Life insurance;
- Gas allowances; and
- Travel expense reimbursement.
How Does the Equal Pay Act Prevent Wage Discrimination?
The Equal Pay Act, or “EPA,” exists to protect workers and employees from gender discrimination. The Act also states that employees are to be given equal pay for equal work. Under the EPA, the following factors are considered when evaluating what constitutes equal work:
- Skill: This includes comparable experience, training, education, and ability as required for a specific job;
- Effort: This refers to the level of physical and mental exertion required for that specific job;
- Responsibility: The amount of obligation and accountability required for a specific job; and
- Working Conditions: This refers to comparable working and environmental hazards presented by the job.
As each job description is different, what constitutes equal work could involve many different factors. Two employees do not have to work identical jobs, but the jobs must be substantially equal. Importantly, job content, not a person’s title, is what will determine if the jobs are substantially equal.
Some of the most common examples of ways in which an employer could discriminate against an employee include:
- Determining an employee’s pay rate based on the employee’s religion, race, gender, and/or sex;
- Separating a group of employees belonging to the same race into the lowest paying job category;
- Paying older employees a higher salary although the younger employees are equally qualified, or vice versa;
- Providing male employees with better job opportunities and higher pay than female employees; or
- Refusing to pay or issue pension benefits due to the employee’s gender, race, etc.
They may try to disguise their actions by using reasons that are not directly related to gender. For example, saying that a female employee was passed over for a position because they did not think she would be able to commit long-term. They have no reason to believe she would not be able to commit to the position like a male counterpart, but a male counterpart is not asked this same question or suspected in the same way.
Some employers will use these types of reasoning to avoid hiring female employees out of fear that they will require maternity leave or quit the position in order to have children. This reason would be a violation of the EPA.
Who is Protected By Wage Discrimination Laws?
Although the EPA was originally created in order to protect female employees and address the unfair pay gap between them and male employees, all employees are protected by the EPA. This means that the EPA now applies to all genders. In order to successfully make a wage discrimination claim, an employee must prove that:
- They have been discriminated against because of their race, gender, religion, or other protected class;
- That they are receiving unequal pay for a type of work performed under comparable working conditions;
- Equal work was involved, as determined by equal skill, effort, and responsibility; and
- They received less compensation than another employee, of a different gender, who performed the same work.
How Can I File a Claim for Violation of the Equal Pay Act?
In order to better support your chances of having a successful claim, it is important that you have all relevant documents and evidence prepared. Once an employee has made a claim against their employer, the burden of proof is placed on the employee. If a claim is established, the burden of proof is then shifted to the employer to provide a solid defense against the claim.
Some examples of what could constitute solid evidence include:
- Any documents concerning pay and/or salary, such as pay receipts or wage stubs, hiring contracts, company employment policies, etc.;
- Any communications from your employer regarding pay, such as emails, written or printed documents, text messages, etc.;
- Statements from whoever may be involved, such as from human resources personnel, coworkers, supervisors, etc.; and/or
- Bank account information and deposit receipts.
In general, an EPA claim must be filed in a state or federal court within two years of the violation. This date is typically when the discriminatory pay action occurred, or when the employee discovered the discrimination.
Does Wage Discrimination Qualify for a Class Action Lawsuit by Discriminated Employees?
A class action lawsuit is one that is generally brought by one or more people, on behalf of a group of others. All participants are required to share a similar legal issue. Additionally, there must be enough affected individuals that it would not make sense for every person to bring an individual lawsuit. If your employer has discriminated against a group of employees, it could be possible that a class action lawsuit would be your best course of action.
Female employees are able to file a suit under the Equal Pay Act, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, as well as potential employees, based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality.
As a federal anti-discrimination Act, it applies to employers in the private sector as well as local, state, and federal governments. Groups who have faced wage discrimination due to their race, religion, national origin, or pregnancy may also file a suit under Title VII.
Recently, more class action lawsuits have been filed by female employees who are being paid less than their male coworkers, although they are performing the same work. An example of this would be the 2016 suit against Merck and Co. which settled with their female sales representatives in a gender bias lawsuit for $250 million.
Do I Need an Attorney for Wage Discrimination?
You should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable discrimination attorney if you are facing wage discrimination. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and options, as well as notify you if you qualify for a class action lawsuit. Finally, an experienced attorney can represent you in court as needed.