Equal Pay Violations
The Equal Pay Act and other federal anti-discrimination laws require employers to provide equal pay for equal work. However, there are exceptions, and employers will have strong defenses to alleged equal pay violations in many cases.
As a general rule, employers in the United States have an obligation to pay their employees equal pay for equal work. The Equal Pay Act imposes this obligation specifically with regard to male and female workers, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other statutes impose similar obligations with regard to other employees’ other protected characteristics as well.
However, as with all general rules, there are exceptions. Practically speaking, it simply is not possible to ensure that all employees who perform the same tasks with the same level of skill and effectiveness are compensated equally; and, legally speaking, there are several circumstances in which “equal pay” is not required. As an employer, understanding when these exceptions apply is critical, as unlawfully providing unequal pay can lead to substantial liability in civil litigation and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcement proceedings.
Experienced Defense Counsel for Employers Accused of Equal Pay Violations
Oberheiden P.C. is a federal defense law firm that represents employers in equal pay litigation. This includes civil litigation involving employee-initiated lawsuits as well as enforcement matters involving the EEOC. We have extensive experience representing employers of all sizes and in all major industries; and, with several attorneys who are former federal prosecutors, we are intimately familiar with the legal arguments on both sides of equal pay claims.
If your company has been accused of violating the Equal Pay Act or any other federal anti-discrimination statute with regard to employee compensation, you need to engage experienced defense counsel. The liability exposure in these cases can be significant, as individual employees’ lawsuits will often spur additional equal pay claims. Our firm is capable of handling large-scale employment litigation in federal jurisdictions nationwide, and we have a proven record of success defending employers across the country.
Wage and Benefit Litigation Under the Equal Pay Act
Under the Equal Pay Act, “men and women in the same workplace [must] be given equal pay for equal work.” As the EEOC explains, “The[ir] jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. Job content (not job titles) determines whether jobs are substantially equal.”
Unlike many other federal anti-discrimination statutes, the Equal Pay Act does not have a threshold number of employees in order for employers to be subject to the law’s requirements. In addition to applying to virtually all employees, the Equal Pay Act also applies to all forms of compensation—not just wages or salary, but also overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, paid time off (PTO), health insurance, and other benefits.
In employment litigation under the Equal Pay Act, there are two main issues that will often provide defenses to employers. These are: (i) the definition of “substantially equal” work, and (ii) the express exceptions to the Equal Pay Act’s equal pay requirements.
“Substantially Equal” Work
When determining whether male and female employees are performing “substantially equal” work for purposes of Equal Pay Act applicability, there are a number of factors that must be considered. If any of the following conditions are not satisfied, then the jobs being performed are not substantially equal, and there is no requirement for equal pay (although other sex-based discrimination prohibitions may still apply):
- A significant portion of the job tasks of each position are the same;
- The jobs require similar levels of experience, ability, education, and training;
- The jobs require similar levels of mental and physical exertion;
- The jobs involve similar levels of responsibility and accountability; and,
- The jobs are performed under similar working conditions.
Generally speaking, the Equal Pay Act also only applies in circumstances in which the male and female employees in question are both employed at the same workplace. However, its applicability can be extended if employees at different workplaces have the same supervisor and/or travel between multiple work locations.
Exceptions to the Equal Pay Requirement
In addition to the above-listed requirements, the Equal Pay Act also contains four express exceptions. Employers are not required to provide equal pay for substantially equal work in circumstances in which disparities in compensation are based upon one or more of the following:
- A Seniority System – Employers can compensate similarly-situated employees differently based upon their duration of employment with the company.
- A Merit System – Employers can reward their employees for exceptional job performance in the form of additional compensation and/or benefits.
- An Incentive System – Employers can use additional compensation to incentivize employees to perform additional or higher-quality work.
- Factors Related to Job Performance or Business Operations – Employers can offer additional pay to employees who accept undesirable tasks or working hours, and for other reasons related to employees’ working conditions.
In litigation under the Equal Pay Act, demonstrating that male and female employees’ jobs are not “substantially equal” or that disparate compensation structures are based on one of the systems or factors listed above can provide a complete defense to liability. As employers’ defense counsel, we critically examine the facts to identify all available defenses, and we call upon our attorneys’ centuries of combined litigation experience to build strategic and successful arguments for dismissing employees’ Equal Pay Act claims.
Employment Discrimination Litigation Involving Alleged Pay Disparities
While the Equal Pay Act addresses pay disparities between male and female employees specifically, other federal anti-discrimination laws that are more general in their application also prohibit employers from providing unequal pay for substantially equal work. Other federal laws that prohibit discriminatory compensation practices include (but are not limited to):
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – Prohibits pay discrimination negatively impacting employees who are 40 years of age or older.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Prohibits pay discrimination based on an employee’s disability.
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) – Prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of employees’ genetic information.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Most, if not all, states have adopted analogous anti-discrimination laws as well, and each of these laws has its own unique scope of application and exceptions.
Defenses to Alleged Equal Pay Violations
As with all types of employment discrimination lawsuits, there are several potential defenses to alleged equal pay violation under the Equal Pay Act, ADEA, ADA, GINA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other applicable state and federal laws. Some examples of these potential defenses include:
- Inapplicability – While the Equal Pay Act applies to virtually all employers in the private sector, other anti-discrimination laws only apply to employers with specified minimum numbers of employees.
- Statute of Limitations – Under the Equal Pay Act, employees have two years to initiate a lawsuit, and filing a complaint with the EEOC does not toll the statute of limitations. Other federal anti-discrimination laws have limitations periods as well.
- Different Jobs – If employees have different job responsibilities, if their jobs require different skills or training, if they require a different amount of exertion, or if they entail different levels of responsibility and accountability, then no equal pay violation can occur.
- Different Workplaces – Similarly, if employees are employed at different workplaces, then the Equal Pay Act’s protections generally would not apply.
- Justified Differentiation in Pay – If any of the Equal Pay Act’s exceptions apply, then liability is unwarranted. Oftentimes, using internal employment policies to prove that compensation structures are based upon seniority or merit will be sufficient on its own secure a dismissal before trial.
But, while there are various ways that employers can defend against allegations of equal pay violations, executing an effective defense strategy – and doing so efficiently and with minimal disruption to the company’s operations – requires a skilled approach and an in-depth understanding of the pertinent statutes and case law. At Oberheiden P.C., we have had significant success securing favorable results for employers, including successful pre-trial results in many cases. With a comprehensive understanding of the law as well as the dynamics and practicalities of employee-employer litigation, we offer effective, results-oriented representation focused on protecting our business clients as cost-effectively as possible.
Our firm has local counsel throughout the country. We also have an affiliated team of investigators and litigation consultants, many of whom are former senior agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies. As a result, we are uniquely positioned to represent employers nationwide in all aspects of employment-related litigation; and, if you need defense counsel for an equal pay claim, we can start working on your case today.
Speak with an Employer Defense Attorney at Oberheiden P.C.
Is your company facing allegations of providing unequal pay for equal work? If so, it is important that you engage experienced employer defense counsel promptly. For a free and confidential case assessment with a senior attorney at Oberheiden P.C., call us at 888-680-1745 or request an appointment online now.