At this year’s Academy Awards, Patricia Arquette used the platform she gained as a Best Supporting Actress winner to speak about pay inequality, saying, “It is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Persistent gender discrimination in employment is a barrier to that goal, but for women who experience pay discrimination at work, there are a variety of possible legal remedies. This post explores some of the laws available to help address wage inequality under federal and Massachusetts law and outlines some of the ways that they do–and do not–protect female workers from unfair pay.
A federal law, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), forbids employers from discriminating in the payment of wages on the basis of sex by paying employees of one sex less “for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” Equal pay is required even for employees whose jobs are not identical, so long as they are substantially equal. There are numerous exceptions to the equal pay requirement: an employer can justify unequal wages if it can demonstrate that the difference results from “(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.”