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Equal Pay Act (EPA)

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to pay discrimination based on gender.

In general, the Equal Pay Act applies to most employees for work done for most employers, although there are certain exceptions. The Act prohibits pay differentials based on gender for employees working in substantially equal jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. There’s no exemption for executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales employees even though they have exempt status under the FLSA.

Mastering HR: Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act permits differences in wages if the payment is based on seniority, merit, quantity and quality of production, or a differential because of any factor other than sex.

Damages under the Equal Pay Act are the same as for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). But if the court finds that an employer acted willfully, it also may be liable for liquidated damages for double fines.

HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discrimination

To establish a case against an employer under the Equal Pay Act, an employee must first show that different wages are paid to employees of the opposite sex. Next, she must demonstrate that the other employees receiving the higher wages perform substantially equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility. Finally, she must show that the jobs are performed under similar working conditions.

Once an employee meets that threshold, the employer can only hope to avoid liability by proving that one of four situations was also at play. The employer can attempt to show that the higher wages weren’t a question of gender, but rather based on: (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (4) some other factor besides gender.