The Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed to ensure that women are paid the same as men for substantially equal work. But because the law allows for differences based on any factor “other than sex,” most employers don’t have to worry about paying the same amount to everyone in the same job classification.
You must, however, be prepared to explain pay differentials—preferably with documentation dating from the time you made the pay decision—in a way that clearly demonstrates why two employees in the same job receive different wages.
Recent case: Rebecca Duncan was promoted to chief county real estate appraiser. Later, after the county fired her, she filed an EPA lawsuit. She alleged that when she was promoted, her salary was lower than that of the man who held the job before.
But the employer was able to prove that Duncan’s male predecessor had additional specialized experience—and performed extra duties that used that experience. The county showed that when it hired him, it took that into account and set the higher salary. Because the experience was a factor “other than sex,” Duncan had no case. The court dismissed her lawsuit. (Duncan v. Madison County, et al., No. 07-14847, 11th Cir., 2008)
Final note: Want more protection against sex discrimination in pay claims? Do a self-audit to check for wage differences by gender and other protected-status categories. You can also hire professional desk auditors to take a look at job and pay equity issues.
Caution: If you find discrepancies, you must increase women’s salaries. The EPA makes it illegal to close the gap by lowering male pay to female levels.
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