Can I Sue if I Am Paid Less than My Male Co-Worker?

Written by Sattiraju Law Firm on September 4, 2019

Virtually every American agrees that men and women should be paid the same for equal work. However, statistics still show that women earn less than men—sometimes a lot less.

If you are being paid less than a male colleague, you might be able to file a lawsuit. Federal law provides two avenues—an Equal Pay Act claim and a Title VII discrimination claim. Below, we go into more detail about these claims.

Equal Pay Act Claim

The Equal Pay Act mandates that men and women who have substantially equal jobs be paid the same. To determine whether the jobs are substantially equal, don’t look at the job title. Instead, check the substance of the work.

Of course, the fact that you are being paid less than a man doing similar work with your employer does not mean you automatically win an Equal Pay Act case. An employer can defend the pay discrepancy by raising 1 of 4 affirmative defenses:

  • Seniority accounts for the pay differential
  • A merit system explains the pay differential
  • Pay is determined by quantity or quality of production
  • Some factor other than sex explains the pay differential

An employer can also always argue that the jobs are not substantially similar, which means the Equal Pay Act doesn’t even apply.

So Sally and James might both sell cars at a dealership, but Sally is being paid less than James. However, her employer points out that James moves many more cars out the door than Sally, so he is entitled to more pay. Sally will need evidence that the affirmative defense isn’t legitimate.

Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main federal anti-discrimination statute. It outlaws employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and one employment practice covered by Title VII is pay. To make out a claim for employment discrimination, you will need to show that your employer is paying you less because you are a woman.

Like an Equal Pay Act claim, however, the simple fact that you are making less than a man does not, by itself, prove employment discrimination. The point of anti-discrimination law is to prohibit invidious discrimination based on sex. In other words, you’ll need to show that sex discrimination motivated your employer.

An employer can defend a Title VII claim by showing they were motivated by a nondiscriminatory reason. For example, they might claim your job performance is inferior to the performance of a male employee or that you have weaker educational credentials.

Contact Sattiraju Law Today

As you can see, to make out a legal case you will need more evidence than a pay disparity, and you can expect employers to defend themselves aggressively. Nevertheless, you should still meet with an attorney to analyze your situation.

At our firm, we have helped many employees bring legal claims for discrimination, including pay discrimination. In addition to federal law, state law might also be of help. To get started, reach out to a gender pay gap lawyer in New Jersey today. We offer a confidential consultation to those interested.

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