Know Your Rights: The Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal law that prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex. It requires that employers pay similarly situated employees the same wage, regardless of sex.
Despite the passage of the EPA more than 50 years ago, women still do not earn wages equal to those of their male peers. Whether you have questions about how the law works or you’re concerned you may be a victim of gender-based pay discrimination, this resource can get you started.
What does the EPA say?
No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee.
— The Equal Pay Act of 1963
The EPA covers all payments made to or on behalf of employees in return for employment. That includes salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, allowances, reimbursements, expenses, and benefits.
What does an employee need to prove to state a claim under the EPA?
To make a claim under the EPA, an employee needs to show that a woman and a man working in the same place at jobs that require equal levels of skill, effort, and responsibility are receiving unequal pay.
What is the difference between the Equal Pay Act and Title VII?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is much broader than the EPA. While the EPA only prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, Title VII bars all employment discrimination (including hiring, firing, and promotion as well as wage) in more categories (including race, color, religion, and national origin as well as sex).
I think I have been paid unfairly because of my gender. Should I file a claim under the Equal Pay Act or Title VII?
If you have been paid unfairly because of your gender, you could file a claim under either law. In fact, many people file claims under both the EPA and Title VII.There are, however, several reasons you might choose to file under the EPA instead of Title VII. Unlike in Title VII lawsuits, you can file a suit under the EPA without first filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Additionally, if you work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees, you may not be able to file under Title VII, but you can still file under the EPA.There are also disadvantages to filing under the EPA. If you think you may want to file a lawsuit, make sure you discuss your options with an attorney.
What should I do if I believe I have a claim for discriminatory pay under the EPA?
You have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, the federal agency charged with enforcing many anti-discrimination laws such as the EPA. Don’t wait if you want to file a charge. In most cases, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory action in order to preserve your legal rights. You can file a charge even if you do not work for your employer anymore, and you do not need to hire a lawyer in order to file a charge. Go to the EEOC’s website for instructions on filing a charge. If you think you may want to file a lawsuit, make sure you discuss your options with an attorney.
Whether or not you have decided to file a charge with the EEOC, consider taking these steps as well:
- Record the discriminatory pay practices you believe are taking place. Keep copies of your salary records and pay stubs.
- Talk to your employer. Your company may have an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer or another way for you to file a complaint. For instance, some companies offer mediation or other tools to resolve problems. Check your employee handbook for procedures.
- Keep doing a good job and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you do a good job at work.
- Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting discrimination can be very stressful.
I’m not ready to file a discrimination charge yet. What can I do in the meantime?
Even if you aren’t ready to file a charge, you can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights. The EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve the complaint. Additionally, most states and local governments have a human rights or civil rights office that can help. See the previous section to find out how you can take steps to protect yourself, whether you file a claim or not.In addition to the federal laws on pay equity, most states have enacted their own laws that supplement the EPA. Look up your state’s laws through the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If you are interested in speaking with an attorney, your local bar association can offer you a referral to a qualified attorney. Read more about finding legal aid organizations near you.
This commonsense guide provides key facts about the current state of the gender pay gap in the United States, with explanations and links to additional resources.
AAUW Political Media Manager Liz Owens tells the stories of women who’ve faced discrimination and unfair pay, including herself.
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund provides a brief introduction to applicable federal, administrative, and judicial systems.