Equal Pay: Not Just For Celebrities

It was recently reported that actress Charlize Theron was able to negotiate a $10 million pay raise for her work in the movie “Snow White and The Huntsman”, in order to put her pay on par with that of her co-star Chris Hemsworth. This information was apparently revealed as a result of the Sony email hack that also revealed gender pay disparities among the cast of the movie “American Hustle.”

Kudos to Ms. Theron for negotiating such a significant pay raise. However, it should come as no surprise that for female employees who don’t have her “star power” and/or who work in different industries, the road to gender pay equality is fraught with significantly more difficulty.

That said, there are laws that specifically prohibit unequal pay due to gender.

For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a federal statute that is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act and codified at 29 U.S.C. 206(d), provides, in pertinent part:

Prohibition of sex discrimination

(1) No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (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: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee.

(2) No labor organization, or its agents, representing employees of an employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall cause or attempt to cause such an employer to discriminate against an employee in violation of paragraph (1) of this subsection. … (Emphasis added.)

You can read more about the Equal Pay Act here.

New York law, specifically NY Labor Law 194, similarly provides:

1. No employee shall be paid a wage at a rate less than the rate at which an employee of the opposite sex in the same establishment is paid for equal work on a job the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which is performed under similar working conditions, except where payment is made pursuant to a differential based on: a. a seniority system; b. a merit system; c. a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or d. any other factor other than sex. (Emphasis added.)

While these laws provide remedies for unequal gender pay, whether and to what extent they apply in a given situation may not be clear. It is not enough merely for a female employee to be paid less than their male co-worker. It must be established, for example, that the two employees are performing “equal work” that “requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which is performed under similar working conditions.”

In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex in pay and benefits. As such, an employee who has a claim under the EPA may also have a claim under Title VII.

And while the EPA and NYLL section 194 relate to compensation discrimination due to gender, there are other statutes – such as Title VII, the NYS Human Rights Law, and the NYC Human Rights Law – that prohibit discrimination with respect to pay due to membership in a protected class other than gender/sex.

If you believe you are not being compensated fairly due to your gender (or another protected characteristic), feel free to contact us today to discuss your legal rights.

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