The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) and its many state analogs require equal pay for equal (or, in some states, “substantially similar”) work. The EPA contains a so-called “catch-all” defense to equal pay claims, permitting wage differentials if employers can show that they are “based on any factor other than [protected category].” But this catch-all defense has been under scrutiny in courts and legislatures around the country. As we recently reported, an en banc Ninth Circuit rejected an employer’s argument that sole reliance on prior pay could be a “factor other than sex” within the meaning of the EPA. The Ninth Circuit’s finding is an outlier among circuit courts in this respect, but it fits a broader trend to narrow the “catch-all” affirmative defense, particularly at the state level. READ MORE
The Second Circuit ruled this month in Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc. that “Title VII does not require a showing of unequal pay for equal work.” Drawing a line between the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and Title VII, the court held that “all Title VII requires a plaintiff to prove is that her employer ‘discriminate[d] against [her] with respect to [her] compensation . . . because of [her] . . . sex.’”
Last year, we covered a Ninth Circuit panel decision which concluded that an employer may rely on prior salary information as an affirmative defense to claims under the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) if “it show[s] that the factor ‘effectuate[s] some business policy’ and that the employer ‘use[s] the factor reasonably in light of the employer’s stated purpose as well as other practices.’” An en banc Ninth Circuit has now reversed the panel’s prior opinion. READ MORE
On August 1, 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a pay equity bill which the Massachusetts Legislature passed by unanimous vote on July 23, 2016. The pay equity act is one of the strongest and most unique in the nation. Chief among the unique features is the prohibition on the use of prior salary in setting compensation and an affirmative defense for employers who conduct pay audits. The legislation differs from the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) and other recent state pay equity laws, including California and Maryland, in several ways.
Comparable Work Presents a Broader Standard
The EPA requires that men and women in the same workplace receive equal pay for “equal work.” “Equal work” means their jobs need not be identical, but “substantially equal.” The newly passed Massachusetts legislation only requires “comparable work,” meaning work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. Thus, the legislation will give employees a larger pool of “comparator jobs” to point to should they feel underpaid in relation to their gender opposites. In fact, the “comparable work” standard appears to be similar to the broader-based standard used in pay-disparity claims under Title VII, except that Title VII also requires proof of intent. Recent Maryland and California laws also expand the pool of comparators. READ MORE
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of “Equal Pay Day,” which the National Committee on Pay Equity launched as a public awareness event in 1996 to symbolize how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In more than 50 years since enactment of the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), women have made significant progress in the workplace and now make up roughly half of the American workforce. However, women working full time still earn, on average, 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this number has barely moved in over a decade. That said, it is still not clear that employer bias is to blame for the gap that remains. Indeed, the pay gap measures only the difference in average earnings between all men and all women; it is not a proxy for pay bias—i.e., the failure to pay women equal pay for equal work. Eliminating pay bias is important, but focusing heavily on perceived employer bias obscures a much more complex web of factors contributing to the problem of pay differences between men and women.
On March 16, 2016 the EEOC will be holding hearings on its proposal to expand the EEO-1 report to require employers to provide pay data. Orrick’s Gary Siniscalco was asked to address the hearing to provide employer views on this issue. Watch our Blog for ongoing developments on this issue and new developments in the equal pay area as they continue to unfold. The text of Gary’s testimony before the EEOC will be as follows:
On October 21, 2015, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a group of eight bills, referred to as the Women’s Equality Agenda, which expand protections for women in the workplace and elsewhere in New York State. The changes that will affect New York employers include an expansion of the existing State equal pay law, the addition of familial status as a protected category and the express requirement that employers reasonably accommodate pregnancy-related conditions.
Last week, Senate Democrats found themselves seven votes short in their most recent effort to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (“PFA”)—an effort which began in 2005, when Hillary Clinton first introduced the bill. But the Democrats’ continuing effort to paint the issue of equal pay as one of employer bias likely is not over. READ MORE