A federal law called the Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace receive equal pay for equal work. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal.
While women often seek relief under this statute, a state government agency learned the hard way that “equal pay for equal work” applies to underpaid men, too.
Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced (here) that it had settled with a state government agency that had allegedly paid one of its male employees less than several female employees who performed the same job duties and responsibilities, even though the male had greater experience and tenure in the job.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, the male employee began working as a district community liaison in 2007. About eight years later, the defendant hired a female into the game position but paid her several thousand dollars more. Several additional female successors eventually occupied the same position, receiving thousands of dollars more than what it paid to the male employee. Females performing the same work in other districts also earned thousands more dollars than the male employee, all with less seniority and experience. The EEOC claimed that the salary disparities were as much as approximately $23,000. The EEOC further alleged that the employer ignored the male employee’s requests to equalize his pay or explain the reasons for the pay discrepancy.
Just because two people are members of the opposite sex and work in substantially similar roles performing the same work doesn’t mean the employer must pay them the same compensation. But, the onus is on the employer to explain how any difference in pay is based on (i) a seniority system, (ii) a merit system, (iii) a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.
When men and women perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment, it’s often that last factor, “a differential based on any other factor other than sex,” that carries the day. But when you have a series of women supposedly getting paid more than one man for the same work, that’s tough to defend.
And perhaps that’s why the employer here settled for $40,000.
The employer did not admit liability but agreed to increase the male’s salary to what a higher-paid female was earning because it would violate the Equal Pay Act to reduce the woman’s pay to try to comply with the law.