My name is Sandy. I am female. I work at Company X as a Sales Specialist. Recently, a male colleague disclosed that his annual salary is $12,000.00 more than my annual salary. Although he has a different job title—he is called a Sales Analyst—we perform the same work. I complained about this to Human Resources (“HR”) and demanded a $12,000.00 pay raise. HR accused me of violating policy by discussing my pay with my colleague and denied my request for a raise. HR subsequently decreased my colleague’s pay by $12,000.00, so now we earn the same salary. Have my rights been violated?
Yes. You have several claims, including a claim under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This blog post will address your claim under the Equal Pay Act.
The Equal Pay Act forbids wage inequality based on sex. To establish pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act, the plaintiff must show that the employer pays different wages to employees of the opposite sex for doing work that requires substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. See 29 USC § 206(d). Significantly, the plaintiff does not need to show that the employer intended to discriminate. Instead, the plaintiff need only show that the jobs at issue are substantially equal (not identical). Whether the jobs are substantially equal depends on the nature of the jobs themselves, not the employees performing the jobs or the titles held by the employees.
In this example, Sandy can establish a wage discrimination claim under the Equal Pay Act because she was paid less than her male colleague for doing the same work. The fact that Sandy and her male comparator have different job titles is immaterial.
Employers cannot “correct” wage inequality by reducing the wages of either sex to equalize their pay. See 29 USC § 206(d)(1) (“an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of [the Equal Pay Act] shall not, in order to comply with the [Act], reduce the wage rate of any employee”).
In this example, Company X should have equalized the salaries paid to Sandy and her male colleague by increasing Sandy’s annual base salary by $12,000.00.
The plaintiff can recover the difference between what he/she was paid and what his/her colleague of the opposite sex was paid during the two-year period preceding the date on which the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. If the employer willfully violated the law, the period of recovery will be extended to three years. In addition, the plaintiff can recover liquidated damages in an amount equal to the amount of the backpay award. Unfortunately, a plaintiff cannot recover non-monetary compensatory damages (such as damages for emotional distress) or punitive damages under the Equal Pay Act.
In this example, Sandy would be entitled to recover the difference between the compensation she received and the compensation her male colleague received, as well as an equivalent amount for liquidated damages.
When two or more employees discuss their wages, they are engaging in concerted, protected activity. See 28 U.S.C. § 157. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from interfering with and restraining employees who engage in this kind of concerted, protected activity. See 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1). Hence, policies that prohibit employees from discussing wages are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act.
In this example, Sandy may have a cause of action against Company X for interfering with her right to discuss her pay with her colleagues.
SMITH LAW has successfully resolved cases involving violations of the Equal Pay Act and the National Labor Relations Act. Please contact us to find out if we can help you.