Equal Pay Claims


It happened to me: A Real Life Story


What do Equal Pay cases require me to prove?


Equal Pay cases require plaintiffs to prove that:
(1) Higher wages were paid to a male employee;
(2) For equal work requiring substantially similar skill, effort and responsibilities; and,
(3) The work was performed under similar working conditions.



Can I bring a claim for pay discrimination under Illinois law?


Yes. Illinois passed the Equal Pay Act of 2003 to address the problem of unfair, lower wages that women earn when compared to men doing the same work. However, you cannot file a claim if the employer has 3 or less employees, or if the pay difference is based upon a merit system, seniority, a system that bases pay on the worker's quantity/quality of production, or any factor not based on gender.



Can I be fired by my employer for bringing an Equal Pay Act claim against him/her?


No. According to the law, employers are prohibited from firing individuals who exercise their rights under the Equal Pay Act. If you have been fired for submitting an Equal Pay claim, then you have been discriminated against and you should refer to the "Retaliation" section.



How do I go about bringing a claim?


The Illinois Department of Labor handles all Equal Pay Act claims in the state. However, if your equal pay claim is part of a larger set of discrimination claims (for example, equal pay and sexual harassment), the case will be referred to the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Complaint forms must be filled out within 180 days after learning of the pay difference, and must be returned to the Department of Labor's Chicago office. Forms can be found at the Department's website, Illinois Department of Labor, under the "Complaint Forms" link on the left. The Department is the sole authority responsible for investigating your claim. Claims should be accompanied by two "supporting documents," which can include any documentation to support your claim (e.g., an office memo from your boss promising a raise).


Women may bring claims on their own directly in state court, but the process through the Illinois Department of Labor is probably faster because of the degree of specialization. However, if you learned of the pay difference more than 180 days ago, you should pursue you claim in state court where you have three years to make a claim.



What happens when I bring a claim?


The Department of Labor will send a notice to your employer that they are conducting an investigation. Your employer will then have 30 days to respond to the Department with information that is relevant to the case including, for example, wages of employees. The Department investigation of your claim could include in-person visits by Department workers, letters, phone calls, etc.


The Department will then notify you when it receives the employer's response and will provide you with a copy. You will be given 30 days to complete a written "rebuttal" or answer to what your employer had to say. If you do not submit your rebuttal, the case will be dismissed. Also, you must remain available to the Department for investigation procedures, including interviews and conferences; if they cannot locate you, your case will be dismissed.



What happens at a "fact-finding conference?


The Department may bring you and your employer together for a fact-finding conference during which it will discover evidence, explain the current status of the investigation, and explore the possibility of settlement. You will be told about the conference at least 10 days in advance. You are allowed to bring an attorney, though the presence of an attorney is not required.So what happens when the investigation is complete?


If the Department of Labor finds "reasonable cause" to support your case, you can try to settle the case with your employer out of court or sue your employer upon the Department's recommendation.If the Department does not find "reasonable cause" to support your case, your complaint will be dismissed.



What do I get if I win my case?


You can get "back pay" (money your employer owes you from not paying you what it should have), as well as any other relief that the court or a settlement deems appropriate.



Can I appeal my case if the Department finds there is no "reasonable cause" to support my case?


Yes, but you must do so within 15 days of the Department's written decision by sending a written notice marked "Request for Informal Hearing" to the Department's Chicago office. If the Department believes your case might have merit after all, it can be tried before an administrative judge.



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