June 11, 2019

What’s Equal Pay?

As Alabama becomes the 49th state to enact an equal pay law, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (covering MD, VA, WV, NC & SC) recently clarified the standard for assessing equal work under the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA). In this recent case, a professor claimed she was paid less than two male professors who performed equal work. She described the work that professors at the college generally perform. The court did not buy it. The court required her to show that the work she performed was equal to the work performed by the two professors against whom she compared herself, not all professors in general.


Why? The court explained that the EPA requires that equal work involve “virtually identical work, skill, effort and responsibility.” “Similarity of work is not enough.”


Proactive Tip #1: The professor sued the University President as well as the University. Remember that individual managers and supervisors may be held liable under the EPA. If you give your managers the authority to grant pay increases, train them on compensation basics.


Proactive Tip #2: The court reminded us that the EPA “is a powerful tool.” It does not require any evidence of intentional discrimination. Talk to your company’s legal counsel and ask about conducting an internal wage study to assess for any unintended, adverse impact in compensation for women or minorities.


Proactive Tip #3: Comply with your related state law. Most provide greater protection than the federal law. For example, Alabama’s new law has a provision about salary history; Maryland’s law has a broader definition for equal work at the same “location.”


Proactive Tip #4: This professor also sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court pointed out the standard is lower than under the EPA; a plaintiff need only show that the work performed is “similar.”  However, the court also noted that the work is “not just similar is some respects, but ‘similarly situated in all respects.”