Equal Pay for Equal Work
Under applicable laws, employees are generally entitled to equal pay for equal work within the same establishment, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.
Equal Pay Laws
Prior to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (linked below), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was the best-known "equal pay law". It amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and became one of the landmark Federal discrimination laws.
The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of gender, by paying unequal wages to men and women who perform essentially the same jobs. The jobs don't have to be exactly the same, but must be substantially equal.
Ever since the Act became law, employers have been prohibited from paying unequal wages to men and women working essentially the same jobs, except only when based on a factor other than gender; examples are seniority and merit.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It also enforces the following discrimination acts, which function as equal pay laws when applicable. Collectively, the laws prohibit discrimination in any aspect of employment, including unequal wages, on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.
President Obama signed an Executive Order and a Presidential Memorandum on 4/8/2014 that support equal pay laws. The order prohibits Federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation information with each other. The memorandum instructs the U.S. Department of Labor to create regulations that require Federal contractors to report wage data by race and gender.
When making a determination under the applicable equal pay law, among other factors, the EEOC and the courts considers the skills, effort and responsibility required to do the job. They also consider the working conditions in which the job is performed. In other words, it's equal work under similar conditions that determines equal pay by law, not job titles.
However, equal pay for equal work applies only to similar jobs within the same establishment, not across the board. An "establishment" is one or more physical places of business, depending on whether the employer hires centrally for all of its places of business or hires separately at each. Additionally, all of the laws that enforce equal pay allow certain employee or employer exceptions.
Equal Pay Legal Recourse
If you reasonably believe that your employer has discriminated against you in violation of the Equal Pay Act or one of the other discrimination laws listed above, then you may file a pay discrimination charge against your employer with the EEOC or a state equivalent.
Under the Equal Pay Act, you do not have to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC before filing a private lawsuit, as you would under any other EEOC-enforced discrimination law. (Private lawsuits typically reward better than EEOC enforcement actions.) Still, it's a good idea to consult an attorney about filing a charge, just in case another discrimination law applies. Attorneys often take discrimination cases on contingency.
Your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for filing an equal pay discrimination charge or lawsuit, or for participating in related proceedings. Your employer is also prohibited from retaliating against witnesses who testify on your behalf during related proceedings.
For more information for both employees and employers, read "Equal Pay and Compensation Discrimination" and "Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination" published by the EEOC; then, see Attorney Referral to find an appropriate lawyer to consult for legal advice regarding equal pay.