Know Your Rights: The Equal Pay Act
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund is committed to advocating for pay equity and ending the gender wage gap. We offer the following information and resources for all concerned about the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and related legislation.
- About the Equal Pay Act
A general overview of the EPA.
- About Pay Equity
A general overview of the fight for pay equity.
- Brief History of the Wage Gap, Pay Inequity, and the Equal Pay Act
Learn about women in the workplace and women’s wages in U.S. history.
- Overview of Equal Pay at the State Level
Learn about various state legislation and how it compares to federal law.
Frequently Asked Questions »
Gets answers to your frequently asked questions about the EPA.
Read more about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 »
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
The Simple Truth About the Pay Gap »
In this commonsense guide about the gender pay gap, AAUW breaks down the latest research into key, straightforward facts.
Get a list of additional resources »
A directory of organizations and publications that offer more information and contacts to get help.
About the Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages. Congress enacted the EPA , as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, to correct the conditions created by the pay inequities that existed based on sex — specifically to remedy the wage disparity faced by women.
In enacting the EPA, Congress made the following findings regarding sex-based wage differentials:
(1) depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;
(2) prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources;
(3) tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;
(4) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and
(5) construes and unfair method of competition.
About Pay Equity
In 1963, President Kennedy signed the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) requiring employers to pay all employees equally for equal work. At that time women earned 58.9% of the wages men earned.
The EPA requires that employers pay similarly situated employees at the same wage regardless of sex. The compensation includes all payments made to or on behalf of employees in return for employment, which includes: salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, allowances, reimbursements, expenses, and benefits.
One year later, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It provided an additional protections for women in employment and allowed them to fight pay inequality based on sex discrimination.
Yet, in 2003, women earned merely 75.5% of the wages men earn. This gain is an improvement of less than half a penny since 1963.
Today, as women start their careers the pay gap is smaller, but still exists. Females aged 15 to 24 working full-time have median annual earnings that are 94% of their male equivalents. The gap quickly widens as women progress in their careers. Women aged 45 to 64 who work full-time earn only about 68% of what men do.
Sex segregation in the work force continues to persist. This occupational segregation results in an inverse relationship between the percentage of women employed in a field and the average hourly salary in that field. Back to Top
Brief History of the Wage Gap, Pay Inequity, and the Equal Pay Act
During World War I, women were first guaranteed pay equity in the form of regulations enforced by the War Labor Board of 1918. The Board’s equal pay policy required manufacturers, who put women on the payroll while male employees were serving in the military, to pay those women the same wages that were paid to the men. (War Labor Reports, National War Labor Board: Its Establishment and Historical Setting, at x-xi (1942))
During World War II, a large number of American women took jobs (most for the first time) outside the home. Many of these women worked in the war industries, and in 1942 the National War Labor Board urged employers to make “adjustments which [would] equalize wage or salary rates paid to females with the rates paid to males for comparable quality and quantity of work on the same or similar operations.” (War Labor Reports, at vii (1945))
The first bill prohibiting pay discrimination against women was called the “Women’s Equal Pay Act of 1945″ and was introduced by Senators Pepper and Morse on June 21, 1945. (S. 1178, 79th Cong., 1st Sess. (1945)) The bill was not passed. Bills were introduced every year but were not passed because they called for equal pay for comparable work. (4 County of Washington v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161, 185 n. 1 (1981)) (Rehnquist, dissenting)) “Comparable work” is the theory of providing equal compensation for different jobs in the same organization or community based on a comparison of the intrinsic worth and/or difficulty of the job. (Id. at 166.)
Until the early 1960s, advertisements for job listings were separated by sex. Almost all of the higher level jobs were for men, and some ads for the exact same job would offer different pay for men and women.
In 1963, women earned 58.9% of the wages men earned. (U.S. Women’s Bureau and the National Committee on Pay Equity) On June 10, 1963 John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) into law to become effective on June 11, 1964. (Equal Pay Act of 1963 (29 U.S.C. § 206) With the EPA it became illegal to pay women lower wages than men based solely on their sex.
Despite the passage of the EPA over forty years ago, women still do not earn equal wages. In 2012, women earned 77% of men’s wages, which is only an improvement of a penny a year since 1963. (U.S. Census Bureau.) Back to Top
Equal Pay at the State Level
In addition to the federal laws covering pay equity, most states have enacted their own laws that supplement the Equal Pay Act (EPA). As of 2012, 42 states had statutes that specifically address pay equity. The following is a quick look at how states generally handle the topic, and you can find more information at the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
- Nine states do not have specific pay equity laws: Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
- Seventeen states have statutes modeled on the EPA and require the “equal work” standard (equal pay for equal work regardless of gender): California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
- Twelve states have statutes requiring equal wages for “comparable work”: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Of these 12 “comparable work” states, four still have affirmative defenses, like those included in the EPA, which allow employers to argue a “factor other than sex” defense: Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The federal statute’s requirement that the work be equal in nature makes proving a case under the federal scheme a more difficult undertaking than in the states where the “comparable work” standard provides a less stringent burden of proof. However, even in the “comparable work” states, women do not frequently use these state statutes to bring pay equity claims. In Maine, for example, in the 37 years leading up to 2003 that the “comparable work” standard had been a part of the statute, there was not a single reported case discussing a claim brought pursuant to the statute. And in Kentucky, the last reported case brought under the state statute was in 1972.
- Three states, although they do not use the “equal work” language, require that stringent standard by stating that male and female work must be the “same”: Arizona, Missouri, and Montana.
- Three states, without using the specific “comparable work” language, use this standard by using the term “similar”: Illinois, Michigan, and Washington.
- Three states classify violations of equal pay as a criminal misdemeanor: Michigan, Montana, and Washington. In Michigan and Washington, in addition to the criminal violation, a woman can bring a civil action.
- Four states do not delineate a specific standard and merely prohibit sex-based wage discrimination: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Jersey.
Unlike the federal EPA, some state pay laws require that women file a claim with an administrative agency similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before a claim can be filed in court. Back to Top
Still need help?
If you have more questions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202.785.7750.