Equal Pay Act
Dolley Law, LLC represents clients in connection with their wage and hour rights and obligations under the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). The Firm’s attorneys have extensive experience in litigating wage and hour actions and know the rights and protections afforded under the EPA. Contact an attorney with our Firm today to learn more.
What is the EPA?
In 1963, the EPA was enacted as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). See 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). It was the first federal anti-discrimination law that addressed wage differences based on sex.
The Four Exemptions
The EPA prohibits employers from discriminating between employees on the basis of sex by paying lower wages to employees of one sex than to employees of the other for performing equal work, “except where such payment is made pursuant to:
- A seniority system
- A merit system
- A system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
- A differential based on any other factor other than sex
Washington County v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161, 167 (1981).
These four “exceptions” are affirmative defenses of the employer, which the employer must prove to avoid liability once an employee comes forward with prima facie evidence of pay discrimination under the EPA. See id. at 168. And EPA regulations provide some examples of “prima facie violations,” such as “where an employee of one sex is hired or assigned to a particular job to replace an employee of the opposite sex but receives a lower rate of pay than the person replaced.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.13(b)(2).
What is "Equal Work"?
The statute refers to “equal work” as “jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). However, “[t]he equal work standard does not require that compared jobs be identical, only that they be substantially equal.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.13(a); see also 29 C.F.R. §§ 1620.14 – 1620.18. EPA regulations recognize that “[j]ob titles are frequently of such a general nature as to provide very little guidance in determining the application of the equal pay standard.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.13(e). According, “the application of the equal pay standard will have to be determined by applying the terms of the [EPA] to the specific facts involved,” considering “the broad remedial purpose of the law.” Id.; 29 C.F.R. § 1620.14(a).
“Where a higher wage rate is paid to one gender than the other for the performance of equal work, the higher rate serves as a wage standard.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.12(b). Thus, “[w]hen a violation of the [EPA] is established, the higher rate paid for equal work is the standard to which the lower rate must be raised to remedy a violation of the [EPA].” Id.
Like other FLSA violations, in the event of an EPA violation, “[t]he employee may sue for back pay and an additional sum, up to the amount of back pay, as liquidated damages, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1620.33. Similarly, “[a] 2-year statute of limitations applies to the recovery of unpaid wages, except that an action on a cause of action arising out of a willful violation may be commenced within 3 years after the cause of action accrued.” Id.
Does the EPA Only Apply to Wages?
The EPA additionally provides that “an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of [the EPA] shall not, in order to comply with [the EPA], reduce the wage rate of any employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). Further, the EPA’s use of the term “wages” differs from the FLSA in certain significant respects, “to assure men and women equal remuneration for equal work.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1620.10.
In addition to wage protections, the EPA makes it “unlawful for an employer to discriminate between men and women performing equal work with regard to fringe benefits,” such as “medical, hospital, accident, life insurance, retirement benefits, profit sharing, bonus plans, leave, and other such concepts.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.11(a)-(b). Moreover, under the EPA, “[i]t shall not be a defense…to a charge of sex discrimination in benefits that the cost of such benefits is greater with respect to one sex than the other.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.11(e).
Who Does the EPA Apply To?
EPA regulations provide additional information regarding the nature and scope of protections afforded by the EPA. The EPA has the same basic coverage as the FLSA, with two principal exceptions:
- The EPA applies to executive, administrative, and professional employees who are normally exempted from the FLSA for most purposes by Section 213(a)(1);
- The EPA covers all state and local government employees unless they are specifically exempted under Section 203(e)(2)(C).
29 C.F.R. § 1620.1(a). Further, “[m]en are protected under the [EPA] equally with women,” even though “the EPA was motivated by concern for the weaker bargaining position of women.” 29 C.F.R. § 1620.1(c).
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
In 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which changed when the statute of limitations begins for a worker to claim pay discrimination in violation of the EPA and/or Title VII. The law declares that an unlawful employment practice occurs not only when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted but also when the employee becomes subject to the decision or practice, as well as each additional application of that decision or practice. In other words, each time compensation is paid to the employee, a potentially discriminatory act occurs subjecting the employer to potential liability.
If you have further questions or concerns about the EPA and would like to speak with an attorney, contact Dolley Law, LLC by phone at (314) 645-4100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.