While the pandemic has disproportionally disrupted women's presence in the workforce, inequality has been there all along. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women with full-time wages or salaries earned just 82 percent of what men earned in 2019—a ratio that has barely budged since 2004.
The gap in women's-to-men's earnings has a number of causes, among them occupational segregation by industry (women are more likely to enter into undervalued, underpaid professions) and differences in years of experience due to family caregiving needs.
But wage discrimination is also still a major factor, one that can affect all women at any stage of their career - though it disproportionally affects women of color. Sometimes, wage discrimination is intentional: An employer chooses to pay a woman less on purpose. Other times, it is due to poor hiring practices, like asking a candidate to share salary history before agreeing on compensation. Practices like these mean that a woman who has experienced discrimination in one job may very well experience it again in another.
The Equal Pay Act
Of course, while still widespread, wage discrimination is illegal. Under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, men and women must be paid equally for doing the same work at the same workplace. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the jobs in question must be fairly equal, even if they're not identical or have different job titles.
All forms of pay are covered, including:
- Stock options or profit sharing
- Life insurance
- Vacation time
- Travel expenses
- Other benefits
It can be challenging to judge the equality of two jobs, but the Department of Labor suggests several criteria for an EPA discrimination claim, including:
- Skill: the experience, ability, education and training required to perform the job. These are specifically the skills needed for the job, not skills the employee may have (i.e., an advanced degree in an unrelated field wouldn't warrant higher pay).
- Effort: the physical or mental exertion needed to perform the work
- Responsibility: the degree of accountability required to perform the job
- Working conditions: the physical surroundings and hazards that accompany the job
- Establishment: the jobs must be within the same establishment
Workplaces often cultivate environments of secrecy around wages, causing employees to avoid discussions about how much they're compensated for fear of retaliation. This means many women don't realize they are experiencing wage discrimination. Once an employee does suspect wage discrimination, the first step is typically reporting it to human resources. If the employer does not address it, retaliates or attempts to lower one employee's wages to match the other, a wage discrimination lawyer can help determine if there's a viable lawsuit.
Title VII and Other Equal Pay Protections
In addition to the EPA, there are other acts that prohibit wage discrimination, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.
For people alleging wage discrimination on the basis of sex, Title VII doesn't require comparing one job to another. Instead, the individual must show that he or she is a member of a protected class, has the necessary qualifications for the job and has been discriminated against. Employers who have 15 or more workers are subject to Title VII.
Recent EEOC Settlements on Wage Discrimination
In cases of wage discrimination, relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages can help the individual who was discriminated against recover lost pay or opportunities. Some recent cases include:
- A lower salary—Covenant HealthCare was ordered to pay $104,707 to settle a wage discrimination suit after violating the EPA and Title VII. The Michigan-based system paid a female business intelligence developer less than two male coworkers who performed the same job.
- Branch managers paid less—First Metropolitan Financial Services agreed to a $100,000 settlement after violating the EPA and Title VII in Tupelo, Miss. The consumer loan and finance company paid female branch managers less than male branch managers, despite doing the same work.
At Barrett & Farahany, we are happy to answer any questions about wage discrimination. We seek justice at work for all employees. If you or anyone you know is looking for answers, please contact us to speak to one of our attorneys.