The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a federal law that requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. Since the Equal Pay Act passed into law, the pay gap between men and women has decreased, but still it remains. In 2023, women make approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Looking across gender, racial, and ethnic groups, patterns of pay discrimination become more extreme: Black women earn 70% of what White men earn, while Hispanic women earn 65% of what White men earn. 

The Equal Pay Act is crucial combatting sex discrimination and pay inequity. The Federal Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be paid equally for substantially similar work. The California Fair Pay Act goes further, requiring that employees be paid equally across gender, race, national origin, and ethnicity. The Equal Pay Act and the Fair Pay Act are essential instruments in the fight to achieve equal pay for all.

If you believe you are not receiving equal compensation for equal work when compared to a colleague of a different gender, or ethnicity, you may be able to bring a legal claim under the Equal Pay Act.

Understanding the Equal Pay Act and the Fair Pay Act

The Federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires that employees across gender lines be compensated equally for jobs demanding substantially equal skill, effort, and job duties, while working under comparable working conditions. The California Fair Pay Act (FPA) is a 2015 California state law crafted to promote pay equity. The law requires that, irrespective of gender, race, or ethnicity, employees must be compensated equally for jobs demanding substantially equal skill, effort, and job duties, while working under comparable working conditions. 

Discrimination in compensation, according to the EPA and FPA goes beyond mere pay difference; it includes all forms of compensation such as wages, bonuses, benefits, and overtime.

Despite apparent similarities, the EPA and FPA differ from other employment discrimination laws such as Civil Rights Act (CRA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The FPA exclusively addresses compensation discrimination, while the CRA and FEHA cover claims regarding all forms of workplace discrimination, including but not limited to pay. The CRA and the FEHA also extend the range of protected classes far beyond gender, race, and ethnicity, to include sexual orientation, disability, age, gender identity, marital status, and more. The Equal Pay Act covers employers of all sizes, providing protection whether you work for a small business or a large corporation.

The EPA and FPA holds that individuals who perform substantially similar work must be compensated equally. “Substantially similar work” refers to work that is mostly similar in skill, effort, responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions. Factors such as prior work experience, ability, education, job description, physical or mental labor, accountability, and physical surroundings can all be considered when determining whether work is substantially similar. Jobs that require substantially similar work do not have to have the same job titles.

Not all instances of unequal pay violate the EPA. For example, an employer could reasonably use a seniority system or merit system to determine how to compensate each employee. Employers are within their rights to pay senior employees at a higher rate, or pay employees based on their quality of production. 

If you feel you are being compensated differently from a co-worker who is performing substantially similar work, you may be able to file a claim under the Equal Pay Act or Fair Pay Act. 

Steps to Take When Preparing to File an Equal Pay Act Claim or Fair Pay Act Claim

If you believe you are a victim of wage discrimination, it is important that you take the following steps in order to support your discrimination claim.

  • Consult with an Attorney: It is always a good idea to get in touch with an employment attorney. Wherever you are in the process, an attorney can give valuable legal advice and provide insights as to how to proceed. 
  • Document the Discrepancy: Document the compensation disparity however you can. Keep records of your pay and your colleagues’ compensation, and save any relevant information supporting your claim.
  • Contact HR: Discuss your concerns with your employer. They may be unaware of the wage discrepancy and could take internal steps to address the issue. 
  • File a Complaint: If the employer does not address the issue internally, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), adhering to their specific guidelines and deadlines.
  • Pursue Legal Action: If your claim remains unresolved, your attorney can help initiate a charge of discrimination against your employer, seeking compensation for the discrimination and potential damages, including back pay and other reimbursements.

Note that claims under the Equal Pay Act have a time limit; the statute of limitations for a case under the EPA is two years from the date of the paycheck. 

If you have a wage claim under the Equal Pay Act, it is possible that you also have a discrimination claim under the federal Civil Rights Act or the California FEHA. The criteria to have discrimination claims under those laws are different from the criteria for the Equal Pay Act, but many situations qualify for more than one.

It is complex to file an Equal Pay Act claim. Navruz Avloni is an experienced attorney dedicated to fighting for equity in the workplace. If you have any questions or concerns about your compensation, contact Avloni Law