Unequal Pay Claims


It Happened to Me: Unequal Pay


What is unequal pay or wage discrimination?


Unequal pay means a woman is paid less than a man for the same work under the same conditions. Note, however, that an employer may pay workers differently for the same work where the discrepancy is based on factors other than sex, such as seniority or quality of work.


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


Try talking with coworkers you trust. If you are not sure how to gauge what your coworkers are paid, you may find it helpful to look at average wages in your area by job title. See our Pay Calculator.


Does Mississippi state law cover wage discrimination?


At this time, Mississippi does not have any laws specifically addressing wage discrimination or unequal pay, but federal laws apply.


What federal laws 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 the discrimination is intentional or simply the effect of employment policies.


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


How can I bring a case for wage discrimination?


The first step in bringing a case for wage discrimination under Title VII requires filing a complaint with the EEOC. This is called an EEOC charge. All laws enforced by the EEOC require you to file a charge before you are allowed to bring a private lawsuit. The EEOC will investigate your claim and attempt to work with your employer to resolve the discrimination. In addition, they may decide to sue your employer, or the EEOC may give you permission to sue in the form of a 'right to sue' letter. To learn more about the procedure for bringing a case see, How do I File a Claim.


An EEOC complaint may not be required under the Equal Pay Act, but many of these cases also fall under Title VII discrimination. It is best to file a charge with the EEOC and pursue your options under both laws.


What is the process for proving a violation of Title VII?


These are the steps to proving a violation of Title VII:

(1) You must first show all the elements of wage discrimination to show unlawful discrimination under Title VII. (see next question)

(2) Next, your employer will have the opportunity to show a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for its action.

(3) Next, you must respond by showing that the reasons offered by your employer are not legitimate and are intended to disguise the discrimination.

For more information on the steps involved in proving discrimination under Title VII at trial, see Disparate Impact/Treatment.


How do I prove that I am being discriminated against under the Equal Pay Act?


To successfully prove a violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 you must show three things, that:

(1) Your employer is subject to the Equal Pay Act (which covers virtually all employers);

(2) You performed work in a position requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions;

(3) You were paid less than the male employees.


What is comparable work?


To prove a violation of the Equal Pay Act, the jobs held by men and women do not need to be identical, but must be comparable. Comparable work means the jobs require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions. Equality is established by what you actually do, not the title you hold.


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


Comparable work requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility. These terms have specific meaning:

(1) Equal skill is measured by experience, education, and training. Most importantly, you must determine the skills required to do the job successfully, not the skills each individual employee possesses.

(2) Effort is 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.

(3) Responsibility is measured by the degree of accountability one possesses in their job. Small differences in responsibility can account for large pay disparities. It is important to consider the weight of your responsibilities compared to the other workers.


What are "similar working conditions"?


Comparable work has to be performed under similar working conditions, meaning the physical surroundings and hazards of the job determine whether working conditions are similar.


What happens if there are no comparably paid men at my office?


Claims for sex-based wage discrimination can be brought under Title VII even if no member of the opposite sex holds an equal but higher paying job. Under the Equal Pay Act, you must be able to prove that there are men doing equal work who are being paid more. The equal work component is part of the basic case that must be made out under the Equal Pay Act, called the prima facie case. For more information on making a prima facie case, see Disparate Impact/Treatment.


What types of evidence do I need?


When you file your complaint with the EEOC, you should provide as much information as possible. You should think about the skill, effort and responsibility involved in your job, and the efforts you made to address the issue with your employer.


Is there any way my employer can justify paying me less?


Even if you are able to prove a violation of the Equal Pay Act, your employer can justify paying you less with one of four defenses:

(1) seniority System

(2) merit System

(3) system that measures earnings based on quality and quantity of production; or

(4) any factor other than sex

These are called 'affirmative defenses.' If your employer can prove that your pay is different for one of these reasons, then they are not in violation of the Equal Pay Act.


I realize there are some legitimate reasons that I am not paid the same as my male coworker, but I still think part of the reason my pay is different is because I am a woman. Can I still bring a claim?


When there may be two motives for the employer not hiring or promoting you — a legitimate one (lack of qualification) and an illegitimate one (sex discrimination) — the court calls this a mixed-motive case.

The law says that as long as sex was a motivating factor, you have a claim against your employer, regardless of other factors that may be legitimate. What may be different is what you can win. If there were legitimate reasons for your lower pay along with the discriminatory motives, the court cannot give you damages or order that you get a pay raise. However, you can get a declaration from the court stating you have suffered discrimination and the court can order your employer to pay your attorney's fees.

The court recently clarified that in mixed-motive cases, you do not have to have stronger evidence or what the court calls a "heightened showing" of discrimination as compared to a case where sex discrimination was the only motive.


What if my boss just lowers everyone's pay so they aren't violating the law?


Your employer cannot reduce the wages of any employee to equalize pay between men and women.


What if the person who held the job before me was paid more?


It is a violation of the Equal Pay Act to pay a woman less than their male predecessors or successors. You are still responsible for proving the elements discussed above, but the man who was paid more does not have to currently work in your position for your employer.


I work in a small business, does that matter?


It may. Title VII only covers employers with at least 15 employees. However, the Equal Pay Act covers all employers, with some specific exceptions.


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?


Yes. For violations of Title VII, you must file a complaint within 180 days from the date the discrimination occurred. This time limit does not apply to violations of the Equal Pay Act because it does not require that people file a charge with the EEOC. Violations of the Equal Pay Act must be filed within two years of the incident. However, because many Equal Pay Act complaints also raise sex discrimination under Title VII, you should file an EEOC charge for both complaints.


I am worried about my employer finding out I filed a charge with the EEOC. Can I remain anonymous?


It may be possible to remain anonymous by not including your name when filing the EEOC charge. However, it may be impossible for the EEOC to investigate your complaint without knowing your identity. Additionally, if you choose to pursue litigation against your employer, there is no way to preserve your anonymity. If you have concerns, contact your local EEOC office for additional information about your options.




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