It's easy for many of us to assume that in America - the land of equality and opportunity - workers are paid fair wages for an honest days' work, regardless of their sex. Unfortunately, this isn't always so. But this discrimination can be stopped.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) was signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963. It was meant to stop sex-based discrimination in the wages paid by employers to male and female workers for doing substantially the same jobs. At the time the EPA became law, female workers were paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to male workers.
Nearly 50 years later, that gap has closed but there's still inequality in wages. As of 2009, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
To tackle the disparity, federal lawmakers came up with the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). It strengthens the EPA by:
- Closing loopholes in the EPA by giving women the right to sue for the same types of money damages other workers are allowed to sue for in other wage discrimination cases. It also gives them the right to file class action lawsuits
- Requiring employers to clearly and specifically identify their business-related reason for paying male and female workers different wages for performing equal work
- Barring employers from retaliating against employees who share information about their wages with their co-workers
- Requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect employee pay information
The US House of Representatives passed its version of the PFA in 2009. Unfortunately, the law didn't make it through the US Senate in 2010. It's uncertain if a similar law will be introduced in 2011.
Despite the set-back, the EPA is still the law and it's still illegal for employers to:
- Pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace
Retaliate against an employee for complaining about or reporting wage discrimination, or taking part in a discrimination lawsuit or investigation
Also, many states have equal pay laws very similar to - and sometimes stricter than - the EPA.
If you think your rights under the EPA have been violated, don't hesitate to take action. You can file a complaint with the EEOC, or check with your state's labor department.
You can also talk to an attorney about your legal options. Unlike most federal discrimination laws (like Title VII claims for race- or sex-based discrimination), you can file a lawsuit under the EPA without first filing a claim with the EEOC.
Everyone works hard for the paychecks. Make sure you're being paid what you deserve and what you're legally entitled to.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Should I file a charge with the EEOC even though I don't have to?
- Will the EEOC tell my employer my name if I file a discrimination claim?
- Can my employer refuse to tell me how much my male co-workers are paid per hour?