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The Reach of the Equal Pay Act (EPA)

Rightly or wrongly, it is a common perception in the United States that the wage gap is a myth—that in fields where the genders are hired at a roughly equal clip, wages are also roughly equal. In reality, disparity remains. Regardless, even if the genders were always paid equally, there are those who would use such a persistent myth in order to perpetuate gender-based discrimination. It is this type of conduct that the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) sought to prevent at its inception and still does today.

Strict Liability

The EPA requires three criteria to be met before it can be said that an employee has made a prima facie case for gender-based employment discrimination.

  • The first is to show that different wages are paid to those not of the employee’s gender.
  • The second is to show that the employees in question do work that is equal in “skill, effort and responsibility.”
  • The third is to demonstrate that working conditions are similar if not identical.

It is indicative to note that there is no intent provision among the three. If these items can be shown, an employer will likely be found to have acted in a discriminatory fashion, whether they intended to do so or not. This constitutes strict liability, as intent is irrelevant when interpreting such a cause of action.

The employer can only overcome this finding of discriminatory intent by successfully proving an affirmative defense. Technically, a handful exist, but the only one that tends to carry weight is to show that unequal pay is granted due to something else besides an employee’s gender. The Equal Pay Act permits unequal pay on the basis of factors like seniority or merit—however, it has been shown in numerous cases that sometimes employers will try to mask gender discrimination as lawful differentiation in quality of work. If you are in such a situation, it can be important to keep an eye out for such behavior.

Seeking Redress

It is important to keep in mind that unlike most grounds for discrimination, allegations of unequal pay based on gender are not required to be investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An employee can simply file suit in the appropriate court. If you prevail in court, you may receive financial compensation, be reinstated if you were terminated, or you may be entitled to another form of compensation, depending on the facts.

Someone with an EPA claim may also wish to investigate the feasibility of bringing a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as it also bans pay and benefits disparity based on gender. Claims may be brought concurrently or joined, depending on the facts of each specific situation. It is always a good idea to consult a knowledgeable professional before proceeding with any legal claim.

Ask An Experienced Attorney

It can be demoralizing to know you are not paid as much as your coworkers. If you believe this may be happening unfairly, you have options. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment discrimination firm are happy to help you decide where to go from here. Contact our office today to set up an initial consultation.

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