Should women be paid the same wages as men for equal work? Should women be paid the same wages as men for jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibility – or that are performed under similar working conditions?
Generally, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) answers yes to these questions. If a claim is made under the EPA, the employer has four defenses to explain why the difference in pay was not based on the gender of the employee.
First, the employer can establish the different pay was the product of a seniority system. Second, the difference can be based on a bona fide merit system.
An employer can also pay men and women differently if the job is based on the quantity or quality of goods produced. Finally, employers can differentiate the pay if the reason for doing so is other than gender.
Consider these facts: A female employee was promoted to an applications engineer. Three other applications engineers, all male, were paid more. She filed suit against her employer under the EPA.
The employer successfully defended the case. The evidence established two of the male engineers had significantly more work experience. The third male engineer had both significantly more work experience and had an advanced degree (master's). These were legitimate reasons for paying the female employee less than her male colleagues.
The female employee’s gender did not play any role in the pay disparity with her male co-workers. Rather, the difference in pay was based on the male counterparts’ superior experience and education. This is permitted under the EPA.