During her acceptance speech for best supporting actress at the recent Academy Awards, Patricia Arquette made an impassioned plea for wage equality for women. Her speech was met with great enthusiasm by some (most notably Meryl Streep) and incredulity by others who thought that women already have the right to equal pay.
Wage Equality Laws Don't Always Mean Equal Pay
As a practical matter, just because there are laws intended to give women equal pay, does not mean that, women are always paid the same as their male counterparts. As we have explored in previous articles, mothers, for example, earn less money than men as well as women without children. Studies have revealed that this disparity in income is more likely the result of discrimination rather than factors like reduced schedules. Additionally, women continue to earn, on average, less than men although the “pay gap” has certainly narrowed.
What laws exist to protect women from sex-based wage discrimination? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act and requires women to be paid the same as their male counterparts for substantially equal work. The FLSA applies to federal, state and local agencies, schools and employers who earn more than $500,000 annually or are engaged in interstate commerce. The FSLA also has anti-retaliation provisions that protect employees who have complained about unequal pay. The Supreme Court recently held that this complaint can be oral and resolved a conflict amongst the Circuit courts in which some had held that a complaint had to be formally “filed” to protect the employee from retaliation. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 131 S. Ct. 1325 (2010).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Title VII applies to employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the first legislation signed into law by President Obama) amended Title VII to provide that the statute of limitations on a wage-based claim runs anew from the receipt of each discriminatory pay check. This overruled a prior Supreme Court decision which had held that the statute of limitations ran from the date of the discriminatory wage decision (a decision which may have been impossible for an employee to be aware of).
State law also protects women from sex-based wage discrimination. The New York State Human Rights Law, which applies to employers with four (4) or more employees, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Additionally, New York Labor Law Section 194 is the state counterpart to the federal Equal Pay Act. The Women's Equality Act (which has not yet passed because of disagreements over reproductive rights provisions) would strengthen this section of the Labor Law (and provide for increased damages for willful violations) and would allow successful litigants in sexual discrimination cases to recover their attorneys' fees (which are available in Title VII cases but not in state law cases).
D'Orazio Peterson Is Here to Fight for Wage Equality for Women
If you have questions about unequal pay give us a call. Our experienced employment attorneys take on a variety of workplace discrimination cases throughout New York, including unequal pay and wage discrimination. Schedule a free, no-obligation case analysis today by calling 888-706-9765 or 518-308-8339.
Giovanna A. D'Orazio by Giovanna A. D'Orazio |
Giovanna practices employment, land use, commercial, civil and personal injury law at D'Orazio Peterson