Issue: As a new ruling shows, a female's job must be "virtually identical" to a male's to support an equal-pay lawsuit.
Benefit: You don't have to fear paying different wages for the same title.
Action: Make sure supervisors have valid reasons, including different skills or education levels required, for paying males more than females.
If a female employee wants to file a federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) claim, she must be able to make an "apples-to-apples" comparison to a male co-worker's job, showing that she's paid less for doing the same work, a recent federal court ruling indicates. While the two jobs don't need to be identical, they must be "virtually identical" jobs. Comparing "similar" jobs won't cut it.
That means you shouldn't be afraid to set different compensation levels for employees who hold the same title. Different pay for the same job title is fine as long as you can prove that the employees' pay is based on factors other than gender, including different responsibilities, duties, skills or education levels required.
When analyzing equal-pay claims, courts will look at the job's duties and responsibilities, not the title, in determining whether jobs are identical enough to bring the case to trial.
Recent case: Two female county emergency services supervisors filed an EPA lawsuit, claiming the county paid male supervisors about $25,000 a year more than female supervisors. The women argued that all supervisors had the same duties, including preparing budgets, monitoring employees and conducting meetings.
A federal appeals court tossed out the case. Reason: While all the supervisors' titles and general duties were the same, their work required different skills and responsibilities. For instance, supervisor positions held by males required advanced degrees, unlike the positions the women held.
When drafting the EPA, Congress clearly said jobs must be "equal" to allow an EPA claim to proceed to trial, the court noted. What does "equal" mean? "Virtually identical," this court said. (Wheatley v. Wicomico County, Md., No. 03-2406, 4th Cir., 2004)
Online resource: For more advice on complying with the Equal Pay Act, go to the EEOC's site, www.eeoc.gov/epa.