Yes, there is arguably a “glass ceiling” that still exists in modern day times because women (and other protected classes) must continue to fight for equal pay in the workplace.   The good news is there are several options available to victims of equal pay law violations.

It is important to know and understand the differences in the equal pay laws before deciding which route to take when litigating such cases in court, whether it be at the agency, state, or federal court level.

New York State’s Equal Pay LawsEqual Pay Act

New York Labor Law Section 194 originally prohibited an employee from being paid less than another employee of the opposite sex for equal work that required equal skill, effort, responsibility, and was performed under similar working conditions.

New York State recently expanded its definition of “equal pay for equal work” in October 2019 and now prohibits unequal pay on the basis of a protected class for all “substantially similar work.” The definition of “substantially similar work” depends on the “skill, effort, and responsibility the work requires, and whether the work is done under similar conditions.”

Under New York State’s more recent Equal Pay Law, an employee has the right to be paid equally for “substantially similar work,” regardless of the employee’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, genetic history, familial status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status.

Both employees and employers alike should be aware that New York State allows differences in pay if it is “based on seniority, merit, quantity, or quality of production, or a factor other than a protected class (i.e., sex or race) such as education, training, or experience.”

Assistance for Employers

It can be very costly to defend Equal Pay or Pay Equity claims because the victim may receive up to four times the difference in awards when including the costs for back pay and liquidated damages. In some cases, the employee may even receive reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.

Therefore, all employers in New York should conduct periodic internal reviews of their pay policies and adjust them accordingly to comply with the Pay Equity law.  An employment law attorney can assist with revising policies and addressing disparity in pay. Employers can also find guidance on the New York Pay Equity law here: DOL Employer Fact Sheet.

How do Employees File a Pay Equity Complaint in New York?

  1. Employees may file a Pay Equity Complaint Form through the New York State Department of Labor here: DOL Pay Equity Complaint
  2. Employees may choose to file a complaint with the New York State Office of the Attorney General here: Attorney General Complaint
  3. Employees can also file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles violations of federal equal pay law or the NY Division of Human Rights which handles human rights law violations.

Federal Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act under federal law was passed as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1963 under 29 U.S.C. § 206.  The Equal Pay Act differs from New York State’s Pay Equity Law because it requires employers to pay men and women equally for performing the same work.  This means that an employee must show they did not receive “equal pay for equal work” versus New York’s definition of “substantially similar work”.

Notably, under the Equal Pay Act, an employee can go straight to court without needing to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC first.

Wage Discrimination v. Equal Pay Violation

An employee with an Equal Pay Act claim could also file a complaint under federal laws that make wage discrimination illegal through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  Under these laws, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee and pay them less money because of race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability.

If the employee files a lawsuit under Title VII, or the New York State Human Rights Laws, then a charge of discrimination must first be filed with a state or federal government agency (i.e., the EEOC or the New York State Division of Human Rights) and the employee must receive a “right to sue” letter from that agency before the employee may file a complaint in federal court.

Deciding what legal action to take as a victim of an equal pay violation under both state and federal laws can be hard to navigate. Employees should consult with an Employment Law attorney to ensure that the statute of limitations or timeframe for filing a claim has not expired and to explore the most cost effective and efficient process is followed.

Employers should consult with an attorney to ensure that all laws are being followed and in order to prevent such Equal Pay lawsuits before they begin.

This article is intended for general information and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel. No attorney-client relationship is created by the distribution of this article. The substance of this article is not intended to cover all legal issues or developments regarding the matter. Please consult with an attorney to ascertain how these new developments may relate to you or your business. © 2022 Law Office of Regina Sarkis, PLLC.