Equal pay for equal work commonly heard mantra in the employment setting. When female employees are paid less than their male counterparts that may be a case of gender discrimination. There are two particular anti-discrimination laws that govern these types of claims: Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. The ways in which these two laws intersect can be confusing. In fact, the differences can be tricky to navigate when it comes to litigating a claim of unequal pay.
Two statutes that make unequal pay unlawful
There are currently two federal laws on the books that make it unlawful to pay men and women differently for equal work – Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee "because of sex," which means to treat men better than women because they are men. The Equal Pay Act basically states that it is unlawful to pay men and women differently for equal work, that is, work involving the same skill, experience, and responsibilities. The Equal Pay Act is only limited to pay disparities, while Title VII addresses all different forms of discrimination.
Initiating a Title VII claim involves administrative procedures
To file a lawsuit under Title VII, an employee must first submit a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is required to investigate your complaint and determine whether there is "probable cause" to believe that discrimination actually occurred. The EEOC will usually make an attempt to settle the case before a lawsuit is filed. Once this administrative proceeding is completed, the employee can file a lawsuit in federal court. If 180 days passes before the EEOC makes a determination, the employee is still allowed to proceed to court.
The Equal Pay Act does not have a pre-filing requirement
The Equal Pay Act is different from Title VII in that employees are not required to go to the EEOC before filing a lawsuit alleging unequal pay. Instead, you can go straight to court. However, the EEOC has statutory authority to investigate Equal Pay Act claims as well as Title VII claims. That means, if you go to the EEOC with claims of violations of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, the EEOC will investigate both claims. But what happens when an employee's claims are tied up at the EEOC?
Be careful with the statute of limitations period
Most laws have a statute of limitations period after which you are no longer allowed to file a lawsuit for your claims. The length of the statute of limitations period depends on the type of claim. The statute of limitations for Title VII complaints is only 180 days in most states, 300 days in others. The statute stops running (is "tolled"), however, when EEOC charge is filed and the complaint is being investigated by the EEOC. The problem is, the statute of limitations under the Equal Pay Act is not tolled by filing a complaint with the EEOC. In other words, while the EEOC is investigating your Equal Pay Act claim the statute of limitations period is still running. If the EEOC holds on to the claims for several years, you run the risk of the statute of limitations on the Equal Pay Act claim expiring.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady Michel & King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.