The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by U.S. President John F. Kennedy to remedy discrepancies in pay between male and female employees. The act prohibits pay discrimination based on sex, and requires male and female employees to be paid the same wages for doing substantially the same job.
While the EPA does protect both male and female employees from pay discrimination based on sex, the law was passed to address a wage differential that compensated female workers unfairly compared to male workers.
A history of unequal pay for women
Historically, women were not a major part of the paid public workforce in the United Stated prior to World War II. During the war, women were pressed into service on the homefront to fill the roles typically reserved for men in industry. Due to the efforts of these women, the first attempts to establish equal pay for women began in 1942.
After the war, women entered the workforce in greater numbers, but with continued disparities in salary between the sexes. Women workers at this time were earning an average of little more than half of what their male counterparts were being paid well into the 1960s, leading to the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963.
Coverage under the EPA
Under the EPA, pay discrimination between men and women workers is prohibited, and employers must pay both sexes equally within an establishment for performing substantially equal work. That is, the jobs need not be identical, but have equivalent requirements for skill level, responsibilities, and effort.
Federal, state and local agencies as well as employees in the private sector are covered under the Equal Pay Act. In addition to prohibiting pay discrimination based on sex, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, as explained in the act’s Declaration of Purpose, in an effort to alleviate what it considered significant consequences arising from discrimination in pay. Consequences such as reduction in living standards, health and welfare; unfair competitive advantage for some businesses; and the obstruction of commerce due to labor disputes.
Defining equal pay
The EPA requires that employees in the same workplace be equally compensated for performing the same job, where compensation refers to an equal rate of pay, not necessarily total compensation. For instance, in a commission-based compensation plan, two employees performing the same job may earn substantially different salaries based on each worker’s individual performance. This would not violate the EPA.
Employers may justify differences in pay between employees at the same workplace, performing essentially the same job if there is a legitimate reason for the discrepancy. For example, the higher paid worker has more experience or seniority.
Equal pay also applies to other forms of compensation, such as bonuses and paid time off.
Pay discrimination on the basis of sex is also prohibited by Title VII of the ADA and ADEA, as well as other protected classes including race, religion, national origin, age and disability. Those laws addressed the Equal Pay Act; however, the Equal Pay Act stipulates that pay equality is required when the jobs are substantially equal.
Another important distinction between the EPA and Title VII protection is that when filing suit under the EPA, an employee need not demonstrate that their employer acted intentionally. The mere discrepancy in pay – if not otherwise justified for legitimate reasons – is enough to successfully litigate.
If you are the victim of pay discrimination based on sex, or any other class protected under the EPA or Title VII, you should consult a labor lawyer for counsel on how and when to file a claim. Although it isn’t required before suing, it is recommended that a complaint also be filed with the EEOC. Your lawyer will be familiar with the state labor laws where you work.