Unequal Pay Claims


It Happened to Me: Unequal Pay


What is Unequal Pay?


Unequal pay describes pay differences between men and women. If men and women are doing the same work, then they should be getting the same wages. Wages include more than just hourly income, it includes "all compensation in employment." For example, it could include housing, travel expenses or other benefits provided to the employee that comes with the job.


Pay differences must be based on the nature of the work and the person's qualifications rather than on sex. For example, an employer cannot justify paying men more because they are supporting their families. The pay must be based on the difficulty of the work, responsibilities, conditions, quality etc.


How do I find out if I am being paid less?


You can ask coworkers how much they are paid or how much they made when they started. If there is no one to ask, you can look at average wages in your area by job title and compare them to yours to help make a case why you should make more. See our Pay Calculator.


What Maryland state laws regarding unequal pay protect me?


The Maryland Equal Pay Act requires all employers to provide equal pay to men and women who perform "comparable work" within their employment. The exception is if the difference in pay is based on a seniority system, merit system, different shifts, different responsibilities, or any other factors other than sex.


Although both federal and state laws exist to protect women in Maryland against wage discrimination, not many cases have been brought under the Maryland Equal Pay Act. This may be because not many people know about the Maryland law or they continue to bring cases under federal law because there are so many more cases decided under it already.

What is "comparable work"?

To prove a violation of the either the federal or Maryland Equal Pay Act, the jobs held by men and women do not need to be identical, but must be alike. The Maryland Equal Pay Act describes that jobs that are of "comparable character or work" may be in the same establishment, on the same operation, in the same business, or of the same type. The federal Equal Pay Act describes that comparable work requires "equal skill, effort, and responsibility," and is performed under similar working conditions.


What federal laws regarding unequal pay protect me?


You may bring a claim for pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers employment discrimination based on sex, whether discriminatory by design or in effect.


You may also bring a claim under the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Equal Pay Act protects women from discrimination in the payment of wages and benefits in employment situations where men and women are performing work that requires similar skill, effort, and responsibility.


What exactly does "equal skill, effort, and responsibility" mean?


Equal skill can include comparing experience, education, ability and training that is needed for the particular job. It is not meant to describe all of the training and education that an employee has in general, just what is relevant to successfully do the job. Effort is defined as the amount of physical or mental exertion required to successfully perform the job. It is important to carefully consider the required effort for each task. Responsibility is measured by how much accountability there is in the employee's work. For that reason, it is important to really think about how some jobs may justifiably have higher wages even if the responsibility does not seem to be that much greater.


What are "similar working conditions"?


Two factors are looked at to judge whether there are similar working conditions: physical surroundings and hazards of the job. An example of physical surroundings would be exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes while working. Hazards deal more with physical danger or risks that can happen on the job.


To whom does the Maryland Equal Pay Act apply?


The Maryland Equal Pay Act applies to any lawful employer or business within the state of Maryland. The Commissioner of Labor and Industry of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations (MCHR) enforces the act.


To whom does the federal Equal Pay Act apply?


The federal Equal Pay Act applies to all employers engaging in lawful business. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal act.


What must I prove to win my case under the Maryland Equal Pay Act?


Under the Maryland Equal Pay Act you must show why the wage difference is not due to:
(1) a seniority system that does not discriminate on the basis of sex;
(2) a merit increase system that does not discriminate on the basis of sex;
(3) jobs that require different abilities or skills;
(4) jobs that require the regular performance of different duties or services; or
(5) work that is performed on different shifts or at different times of day.


Factors three, four and five are different from what is reflected in the federal Equal Pay Act.


What must I prove to win my case under the federal Equal Pay Act?


Under the Federal Equal Pay Act you must show why the wage difference is not due to:
(1) seniority system;
(2) merit system;
(3) a system that measures wages by quantity or quality of production; or
(4) any other factor other than sex.


The employee has to provide information to show that these are satisfied. Intentional discrimination does not have to be proven right away, but the employee must provide facts that could lead a court to find sex discrimination so an investigation can be made.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to these denials?


The employer will try to argue that someone was paid more because they are more qualified, whether because of education, experience or some other factor pertinent to the type of work.


Keep detailed records of work done, hours, work product, and wages. These may be used to make a case that there was no reason to be paid less. Also review the work policy, if there is one, to see if anything is written about pay differences between employees. If there is something written, try to use the policy to make arguments that the employer was discriminating and not following his own work place policy.


Are there any specific remedies for unequal pay that I could get?


Both the Federal and Maryland state Equal Pay Acts allow women to recover for wages not properly paid, plus an equal amount of liquidated damages, and possibly attorney's fees, interest and costs.


Can my employer eliminate wage differences by lowering other employees' wages?


No. Under both the federal and Maryland Equal Pay Acts an employer may not reduce the wages of any employee in order to eliminate illegal wage differences.


Does it matter when I suffered pay discrimination?


You must file your claim with either MCHR or the EEOC within 180 days (about six months) of the date that the last discriminatory act or event at issue took place.Determining distinct acts of discrimination can be difficult because you may not know right away that you have been discriminated against or you might think there isn't strong enough evidence. Also, discrimination may not occur at one distinct time. Nevertheless, it is very important that you file your charge with the Maryland Commission on Human Rights as soon as you suspect discrimination. If you wait too long, such that the retaliatory act happened prior to six months ago, your charge will be invalid.


How do I go about filing a claim for unequal pay?


For more information, see How do I File a Claim


What are some other online resources I can look at


For information about filing state claims, see the Maryland Commission on Human Relations


For information about filing federal claims, see The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



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