The Wage Gap Issue in a Nutshell
Sex discrimination is prohibited in a number of ways in the U.S. According to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, employers must refrain from discriminating between sexes when it comes to hiring, firing, leave benefits and compensation.
Yet, women workers continue to see lower payscales in comparison to men. In 2014, women earned 74 cents on the dollar less than men. African American women earned 60 cents less and Latina women workers earned 56 cents on the dollar less compared to white non-hispanic men.
Highlighting the importance of equal rights for women workers, traditionally earning less than male counterparts since the 1960’s, legislators introduced the Equal Pay Act (EPA). This law specifically protects women workers in companies with 15 or more employees from wage discrimination in an attempt to rectify the negative impact of gender wage gaps on the American workforce.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is the latest legislative contribution from the Obama Administration in the effort to equalize pay for women workers. The law, the first ever signed by President Obama, allows women to overcome challenges and difficulties associated with recovering damages for discrimination claims. It also makes it easier for women to file pay discrimination claims.
The Obama Administration took things a step further recently inviting companies across the country to take the Equal Pay Pledge. The pledge holds companies accountable to the equal pay for equal work dictates of the EPA. So far, 28 companies have signed on to the new pledge with more in a number of industries looking to participate in the future.
The federal government has also ensured that federal workers, including workers employed under federal contracts, are free of sex discrimination and unequal pay. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) recently finalized a rule on the subject, making it illegal for federally contracted companies to discriminate based on compensation, as well as gender identity and sex stereotypes.
However, rather than enforcing the equal pay for equal work mandate, the agency emphasized “fair pay” in federal programs, which means that unequal pay in some areas may still survive for federal workers.
Is the wage gap created by sex discrimination?
While many might agree that the underlying cause of the wage gap in the U.S. is sex discrimination, the discussion is shifting. A new perspective suggests that other factors, such as career choices and industry are more prevalent, modern-day culprits.
Prior to 2014, the prevailing view was that the wage gap was a result of sex discrimination in compensation, sexual harassment and bias against mothers. This view resonates well with the history of the equal pay issue. The idea the need for equal pay has its origins in the biases of the post World War II and mid-century workplace, where women were relegated to secretarial jobs and experienced discrimination in education and at the election polls.
However, new voices have emerged on the wage gap issue – with many suggesting that the wage gap is actually a myth. For instance, Solomon Polachek, labor economics professor at Bingham University in New York, has suggested through his early findings that non-traditional drivers for the gender wage gap, such as fertility and motherhood, are the real reasons behind the wage gap.
Others suggest that women have already achieved equal pay for equal work. In 2014, the American Association of University Women released a study entitled “Graduating to a Pay Gap” exploring the “adjusted” gender wage gap, findng that when certain factors are controlled, the average 23 cent gender wage gap shrinks to near non existence – a mere 6.6 cents. However, researchers are currently still investigating how much of the adjusted gap is attributable to sex discrimination.
Still, proponents of traditional notions surrounding the gender wage gap as sex discrimination include prominent decision-makers like the EEOC. Earlier this year, the agency proposed a rule that would require employers to submit salary data on an annual basis. If the rule is adopted, the EEOC hopes to use the data to determine the true accuracy of gender wage gaps across the nation.
The Gender Wage Gap and the Double Burden of Racial Discrimination
The gender wage gap is sometimes a double burden when coupled with the effects of race discrimination. The effects of the gender wage gap and sex discrimination often hit hardest of all among women of color.
Black women are paid 60-64 cents for every dollar a man earns, and for Latinas, it’s the lowest in the country at just 54 cents for every dollar. The National Women’s Law Center Vice President, Emily Martin attributes the stark differences in pay among races to occupational segregation. According to the Center, seven states – Michigan, West Virginia, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Louisiana have the worst records when it comes to gender wage gaps (pdf).
What to Do About a Gender Wage Gap At Your Job
Gender wage gaps have sparked an outcry against unequal pay for equal work across the country with women recently speaking out in Hollywood and in the tech industry. What should you do when gender pay gaps are at issue in your workplace?
The EEOC may provide the best recourse for sex discrimination in compensation. Filing a charge of sex discrimination under Title VII begins with locating your EEO office and speaking with an intake officer. The charge filing process begins with an investigation into all claims and concludes with a Right-to-Sue Notice if the EEOC thinks you and your attorney should head to court. However, the EEOC could choose to represent your claims in court itself by filing a lawsuit on your behalf.
A claim of compensation discrimination may also be successful under state law. Many state anti-discrimination laws are modeled after Title VII and include prohibitions against unequal pay for employers with smaller numbers of employees than the federal law. State EEO offices can be located by contacting your state workplace center or by inquiring with your HR department.
At any rate, the best approach to handling any workplace discrimination complaint is to contact your attorney for sound advice and counsel. An experienced employment discrimination attorney with a proven track record of litigating gender wage gap cases could be your best bet against gender bias and wage gaps in salary decisions.