The Equal Pay Act (the “EPA”), requires that employers pay both male and female employees the same wages for equal work in jobs which require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions. An employee may prove his claim by showing employees of the opposite gender who worked in the same “establishment” for the same employer received better pay for the same work. Such an employee of the opposite gender is called the “comparator.”
An “establishment” is defined as a distinct physical place of
business rather than an entire business which may include several separate places of business. Thus, multiple locations may not constitute a single establishment. Therefore, as a general rule, the comparator should work at the same physical location. However, when employment decisions – including setting the rates of pay for male and female employees – are made by a central administrative unit, then the court will consider comparators from other locations.
Once an employee demonstrates that he or she is being paid less than employees of the opposite sex performing work which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and under similar working conditions, the employer can only defeat the claim by proving one of four exceptions. These exceptions are when unequal payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.
An employee who believes he or she has been paid unequally in violation of the EPA have two years to bring a lawsuit, or three years if the violation is alleged to be willful.
In addition, the EPA allows employees of the same gender to bring their claims together in a collective class action. Therefore, if the records show that an employer pays its employees of one gender less wages and this decision is made by a central administrative unit, then the plaintiffs can seek – and may obtain – certification of a nationwide collective class.