The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), the first modern employment discrimination statute, was inspired by the WarLabor Board’s effort during World War II to equalize pay between men and women. The EPA prohibits employers from paying different wages to employees of different sexes, if their respective jobs require equal “skill, effort and responsibility” and are performed under the same conditions. The EPA also prohibits retaliation by the employer for filing a claim under the act or for cooperating with an investigation of such a claim.
Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the principle federal antidiscrimination law), the EPA does not require an employee to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a federal lawsuit. There is no need to file a civil rights complaint, for example. As a practical matter, however, plaintiffs often pursue EPA and Title VII claims at the same time, so they typically file civil rights complaints first, as required by Title VII.
The EPA gives the employer certain defenses to employees’ claims, including the ability to argue that a pay disparity is the result of a seniority salary system, a merit salary system, a system that bases salary on quantity or quality of production, or any factor other than sex.
Damages available under the EPA include back pay for up to three years from the time of filing the lawsuit, liquidated damages,1 interest, attorney fees, costs and, in the case of employer retaliation, court orders to stop or reverse the retaliatory conduct.
Employees who pursue EPA cases usually retain lawyers. Because an employer found to have violated the EPA is required to pay the employee’s attorney fees, many attorneys will take EPA cases on a contingency basis with respect to their time, although the client may have to lay out money for other costs as the case proceeds. Members are encouraged to consult local employment attorneys for assistance with potential equal-pay violations.
Parties to a contract may agree to how much money one would owe the other in the event one party breaks thecontract. The agreed-upon amount is included in the employment contract as a “liquidated damages” provision. Certain statutes, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, the EPA and some state wage laws also provide for liquidated damages, generally expressed as a multiplier of compensatory (actual) damages.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)