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Understanding The Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act requires fair treatment in job compensation for all Michigan workers regardless of their sex. It prohibits pay discrimination based on sex for equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions. The law looks to substantially similar employees for pay comparisons. Courts look beyond job labels and focus on the actual duties and qualifications of a given position. Two people with the same title may do very different jobs and a pay disparity might be reasonable. More often, men and women work alongside each other doing the same job, but the men have management titles and more pay while the women are given administrative titles with lower salaries. The law does require substantially similar pay for substantially similar work, regardless of title. The EPA is not applicable where an employer can show that difference in payment is because of (a) a seniority system, (b) a merit system, (c) a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production (commissions), or (d) a differential based on any other factor other than sex (most common). However, it is the responsibility of the employer to establish if one of the exceptions applies.

How Is The Equal Pay Act Different From Other Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Under the EPA, once the employee makes out a “prima facie” case, the employer must establish one of the four exceptions, or it faces strict liability for an Equal Pay Act violation. Unlike job discrimination laws, the employee is not required to prove discriminatory intent. The EPA is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is designed to remedy pay disparity at work. That disparity may be caused by complex cultural factors; some may even be unintentional. The intent is irrelevant for the EPA.

What Kinds Of Damages Are Available Under The Equal Pay Act?

Backpay is recoverable for up to two years. An equal amount to the backpay award can be awarded in “liquidated damages” unless an employer can show it acted in good faith. Under other laws, such as Title VII, the standards of proof are different and the statute of limitations is longer, which may allow an employee to recover lost pay going back three years. However, these other laws place a higher burden on the employee to prove the employer’s intent to discriminate on the job.

How Does Title VII Treat Discrimination In Payroll Decisions?

Title VII prohibits pay discrimination based on race, age and other factors, as well as based on sex. It is much broader than the Equal Pay Act in terms of the types of discrimination prohibited and also conduct prohibited. Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against any employee with respect to sex, terms and more than just pay, and includes conditions of employment. On the other hand, the employee has to prove the intent to discriminate at work, whereas the employer only has to show a wage differential that does not fall into one of the specific exceptions.

What Are The Differences Between ELCRA, Title VII And The EPA?

In Michigan, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) provides similar protections as Title VII for gender discrimination in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation. Additionally, ELCRA applies to any employer with more than one employee, whereas Title VII requires at least 15 employees. Another distinction with ELCRA is that there is no requirement under ELCRA to file an administrative claim first. The claim can go directly to court. Under ELCRA, there are no punitive damages available. However, punitive damages may be allowed under Title VII, and “liquidated damages” may be available under the EPA.

How Did The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Change The Law?

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is legislation that was passed in 2009. It reversed an earlier Supreme Court holding and reinstated the former “paycheck accrual rule.” The Ledbetter Act reaffirms that a new cause of action for pay discrimination accrues each time that a woman receives a pay check that is less than similarly situated male employees receive.

How Does Unequal Pay Impact Michigan Families?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, despite making up half of the workforce, women are still only making 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man on the same job. In Michigan, the numbers suggest payroll discrimination is much worse than the national average. Michigan ranks 45th out of the 50 states on a national pay equity comparison. Since two-thirds of families are supported by female breadwinners or co-breadwinners, pay disparity on the job affects the well-being of families throughout Michigan. Despite the great strides made by women in the area of work, wage secrecy and imperfect information make it incredibly hard for women to recognize that they are being underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts. The National Committee on Pay Equity notes that “wage data is largely kept secret in America, so women and minorities are underpaid without knowing it. Employers frequently have policies that forbid workers from discussing salaries . . . or corporate cultures that make it taboo to discuss salaries, even among trusted co-workers.” These policies are illegal in Michigan. In effect, women do not have an equal platform to negotiate salaries and often undervalue themselves. Lilly Ledbetter, the woman who inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, only learned of her own pay inequity when somebody left an anonymous note in her work locker. Little has been done to remedy pay equity through market forces; however, the EPA, Title VII and ELCRA all provide legal mechanisms to fight back against pay discrimination and clear the way for true equality in the workplace.

Ready To Fight For You

If you suspect that you are paid less than your male counterparts, denied job benefits or otherwise treated unfairly at work because of your sex, the first step is to seek the advice of an experienced team of employment lawyers that will fight for your rights in the workplace. At NachtLaw, our equal pay lawyers are prepared to fight for your rights to pay equity. To discuss your legal rights and options with an attorney at our firm, contact us by email or call 866-965-2488. We represent clients throughout Michigan and Ohio.