Equal Pay Claims
New York State and New York City have similar laws pertaining to the Equal Pay Act, but they differ slightly on the federal level. In 2019, New York State and New York City broadened their pay equity law to require equal pay for “substantially similar work” rather than just “equal work.” This means that employers have to actually look at an employee’s job requirements rather than just the description title. This is because many employers tend to give women “simpler” and “less important” titles when, in reality, they are doing the same exact work as their male counterparts. This law extended further than just women. The law now protects classes, including gender identity, gender expression, race, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic characteristics, age, etc. Another provision added to the law is that employers must now ensure that any wage differential is based on the seniority/merit of the employee or the quality of the employee themself (based on their education, training, and experience) but cannot be based on gender. These additions went into effect on October 8, 2019, and have not been updated since.
Federal law contains many of the same laws entailed in the New York Equal Pay Act. The federal Equal Pay Act previously prohibited gender-based pay disparities unless they are based on: (1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production; or (4) any other valid factor that is not gender. On March 27, 2019, the House of Representatives passed an act to strengthen the Equal Pay Act: The Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act makes the employer’s burden to prove that any pay disparities are not based on gender much greater. Four of these conditions that the employer must prove (not all) include: pay disparity is not based upon a sex-based difference; pay disparity is job-related concerning the position in question; pay disparity is consistent within the business; pay disparity accounts for the entire differential in compensation at issue. On April 15, 2021, the Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House of Representatives and will move onto the Senate soon to determine if it should be enacted in all states (not just the federal level).
Substantial punishment can be given to any employer who violates the Equal Pay Act. Violations of the Equal Pay Act include (but are not limited to):
- Paying an employee less than another who performs the same work based on that person’s gender
- Treating a group of employees differently in terms of pay based on gender
- Denying an employee insurance or benefits based on gender
- Refusing pay or specific benefits to a person due to their gender
An employer found guilty of violating the Equal Pay Act will be liable for compensatory damages and possibly even punitive damages if the employee can prove their employer willfully violated the law. Penalties may include damages equal to the pay differential, additional liquidated damages, or even three times the pay differential (in New York).
There are many different outcomes for the employee who wants to file against their employer for a violation of the Equal Pay Act. Since a breach of the act is a form of discrimination, the complainant will likely retain the average settlement amount given in a workplace discrimination case. An exact number is hard to estimate, though. Two significant determining factors are how big the company is and how big the pay differential is. As the company’s size increases, the amount of money awarded to the complainant will also most likely increase.
If you or someone you know is would like to speak to a lawyer regarding a potential Equal Pay Act claim, give us a call at 855-JON-BELL. We offer a free and confidential consultation.