The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers from paying different wages on the basis of gender for “equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions....” Period. Female employees must also receive the same level of benefits as their male colleagues.
The EEOC administers the law. The agency can conduct audits even if it hasn’t received a complaint and can initiate suits on behalf of those whose rights have allegedly been violated.
Some employers wrongly believe that they’re not vulnerable to an EPA lawsuit if the two jobs in question aren’t identical. But female employees don’t need to meet such a high standard to bring their equal pay claim to court. The EEOC says females need only prove that they’re paid less than men who work in “substantially equal” jobs.
When deciding whether jobs are substantially equal, titles don’t matter. Duties and responsibilities do. If members of one gender hold most of the high-paying positions, alarm bells should sound.
Case in point: Seventeen female nurse practitioners at the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center filed EPA claims. Their complaint? Physician assistants, who were predominantly male, earned $10,000 more for jobs that required similar tasks, skills and responsibilities.
The court looked at these stats: 95 percent of the nurse practitioners were female; 85 percent of the physician assistants were male; each profession had similar education and licensing requirements; they worked side-by-side, often covering for one another.
The appeals court sent the case to trial because the medical center couldn’t come up with a logical business reason for the pay disparity. Saying it had always paid nurse practitioners less didn’t cut it. Beck-Wilson v. Principi, No. 04-4010 (6th Cir. 2006)
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