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Equal Pay Act Attorneys

Federal laws ensure workers’ rights to be free from discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, pregnancy, and other attributes. Many of these well-known protections have been in effect for decades. Even so, violations still occur.

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is one such protection. It became law in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act and sought to end wage disparities based on gender. The EPA guarantees equal pay for equal work and provides that men and women who perform substantially similar jobs must not be compensated differently.

Gender Pay Disparities

The gap between the earning potential of men and women is well documented. Unfortunately, despite the protections offered by the EPA and similar legislation, women still make an average of 83 percent of what men earn. That amount is even lower for women of color.

The differences between the earning potential of men and women exist in nearly every industry, even those traditionally dominated by women.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Population Survey, the median annual wage for all male workers was $49,389. For female workers, the median was $35,838. Among full-time workers, men earned a median annual wage of $61,417 in 2020, while women earned a median annual wage of $50,982.

In 2020, the gender pay gap revealed that women earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. Latina workers earn about 57 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Women over age 65 earn about 74 cents per dollar of what their male counterparts earn. Over time, these differences add up:

  • The average woman will earn $80,000 less over a 40-year career than a man doing the same job with the same experience. 
  • By the end of their careers, the average businessman will earn 60 percent more than the average woman on the same career track. 
  • By age 66, women are 6.2 percent less likely to have retirement savings. 
  • Over half (50.2 percent) of women have no retirement savings, compared to 46.8 percent of men. 

Violations of the Equal Pay Act

When an employer is discriminatory in its compensation practices, there could be a violation of the EPA. “Compensation” refers not only to wages but also to benefits such as overtime, bonuses, insurance, profit sharing, vacation time, hotel accommodations, and travel expenses.

Potential gender-based pay discrimination situations may extend beyond salary or dollars-per-hour rates. A man being paid more than a woman who does equal work, or vice versa, simply because the company pays one sex more than another would be an obvious EPA foul. However, gender disparities involving benefits may also violate the act.

Employers who violate the EPA may be liable for the following:

  • The amount of unpaid wages due to the underpaid employee;
  • An additional amount in liquidated damages; 
  • Payment of any attorneys’ fees and legal expenses; and
  • Any equitable relief that applies, such as giving the underpaid employee a promotion or reinstating them in their job. 

Types of evidence that may be used to support an EPA claim include:

  • Testimony from the plaintiff who filed the claim;
  • Testimony from the plaintiff’s co-workers;
  • Employee personnel files;
  • Official job descriptions used by the company; and
  • Company communications, such as emails discussing pay.

Company documents describing pay policies, bonus plans, and other matters regarding employee compensation. 

What is Equal Work?

Equal jobs need not be the same. The EPA requires that the work be substantially similar in content and performed in the same establishment. Equal work requires equivalent:

  • Skill — The education, training, ability, and experience needed to do the job.
  • Effort — The amount of exertion, either mental or physical, expected in the role.
  • Responsibility — The degree of personal accountability involved in the job.
  • Conditions — The physical environment, like temperature conditions or ventilation, and hazards, such as chemical exposure, encountered on the job.
  • Establishment — Work must be performed at the same establishment, which may include the entire company if it has multiple locations.

Job titles are not necessarily considered when determining if positions are equal. Equal pay depends partly on comparing skills, experience, and seniority to an employee’s comparator.

Exceptions to the Equal Pay Act

Sometimes, pay discrepancies between men and women who do equal work are allowed. These are called affirmative defenses, and they include things like varying educations or experience, merit, production, or seniority — things not solely based on gender.

Class and Collective Action EPA Lawsuits

Often, an employer engages in gender-based pay discrimination that violates the rights of numerous employees. When many similarly situated workers are mistreated in the same way, pursuing their rights in a class action or collective action is appropriate.

Class actions are especially useful for bringing litigation on behalf of employees wronged by large and powerful companies. Those companies frequently have a team of lawyers defending them from gender-based pay discrimination claims, and an individual lawsuit by a single worker could drag on for years and at great expense. In class actions, all of the plaintiffs are represented by the same lawyers, making it not only economical but also often resulting in a speedier resolution.

Recent Case Examples

The fight for equal pay is far from over. Here are a few recent examples of EPA lawsuits: 

Vasser et al. v. Mapco Express, Inc.

Female store managers filed a lawsuit, claiming that Mapco, a convenience store chain, regularly paid its female workers less than their male colleagues despite the fact that they did the same work. 

In the complaint, the plaintiffs and their attorneys identified the store managers’ duties. They also noted that Mapco generally paid male store managers about $42,000 annually. In comparison, female store managers received only $36,500 per year – even when their experience and tenure were similar, and they performed the same job. 

The case was settled for $1.1 million for 209 employees at Mapco stores. 

Knox v. John Varvatos Enterprises, Inc.

Female clothing store employees raised concerns about unequal compensation in the form of store credit, alleging that male sales associates received $6,000 in store credit each year, but women received only a 50% discount. To reap the same benefit from their employment, women had to spend $6,000 yearly, while men had to pay nothing. 

The complaint compared male and female employees’ job skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. Evidence used to support the allegations in the complaint included a copy of the store’s retail employee discount policy and company emails stating that women were not entitled to the $6,000 in store credit. 

The case went to trial in the Southern District of New York and a jury awarded the plaintiffs $3.5 million in damages. 

Jock et al. v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc.

Female employees of Sterling Jewelers alleged that the company routinely overlooked women regarding promotions and raises. The result was a workforce in which women often did the same work as men yet received less pay. 

The complaint included information about pay and promotion data at the company, as well as Sterling’s written and unwritten promotion policies and habits. 

The case eventually settled for $175 million. 

Taking Action

In 2018, there were 1,066 EPA complaints made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (the government agency that investigates claims of EPA violations). Of those, 257 were resolved in favor of the person who made the complaint.

Unlike other employment rights laws, claims of discrimination under the EPA do not need to be first filed with the EEOC to go to court. If an employer is suspected of using gender as a determining factor in compensation, a complaint should be filed as soon as possible. There is a two-year statute of limitations for EPA claims (and three years for willful violations) that begins upon the discovery of the pay discrimination.

Employers who violate the EPA will be held responsible for back pay, an equal amount of liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and potentially other equitable relief that will rectify the violation of rights.

Sommers Schwartz Can Help

Cases involving gender-based pay disparities are often complicated, and this makes fighting EPA violations against large companies very difficult. You should speak to an experienced EPA attorney who will thoroughly investigate any alleged EPA violations and craft an expert case on behalf of the victims of pay discrimination.

The EPA attorneys at Sommers Schwartz are among the most experienced in United States, routinely representing employees in cases involving all types of discrimination before the EEOC, in courtroom litigation, and advising clients in everyday situations on the job. Likewise, successfully coordinating a class action lawsuit requires a firm with a knowledgeable team, specialized skills, and extensive resources. Sommers Schwartz is that firm. Our EPA attorneys have fought and won unpaid wage cases of all sizes, including lawsuits involving tens of thousands of plaintiffs.

Contact a Sommers Schwartz EPA attorney today to confidentially discuss your case and learn how we can help.

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