Employers that don’t pay men and women the same for substantially identical work violate the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The employer’s intent doesn’t matter. What matters is that the pay is unequal. The EPA is a strict liability statute, as one of the world’s most gender-equitable nations learned when it was sued in Minnesota.
Recent case: When the Royal Norwegian Embassy decided to hire two professionals in Minnesota to act as Norway’s representatives to education and business interests in the United States, their search found two candidates—a woman and a man.
Ellen was offered the education position. Anders, the man, was offered the business position. Ellen had lived in Norway for 20 years and spoke fluent Norwegian. Anders, on the other hand, did not speak Norwegian and had never even been to Norway.
Both jobs required equal skill, effort and responsibility but Ellen was offered a far lower salary than Anders. She also didn’t receive health insurance benefits for her partner or her children, while Anders did.
When Ellen began questioning the differences, the embassy argued that Anders, unlike Ellen, was the head of a household with a dependent spouse and needed more money for day care expenses.
Unsurprisingly, Ellen sued for EPA violations.
The embassy’s pay plan did not go over well with the court, which found that it violated the EPA even if it didn’t intend to discriminate on the basis of sex. (Ewald v. Royal Norwegian Embassy, No. 11-CV-2116, DC MN, 2014)