Equal Pay

Equal Pay in the United States


On average, full-time working women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. This significant gap is more than a statistic — it has real life consequences. When women, who make up nearly half the workforce, bring home less money each day, it means they have less for the everyday needs of their families, and over a lifetime of work, far less savings for retirement. While progress has been made, the pay gap affects all women and is larger among minority women and women with disabilities.

Equal Pay in Labor Law

According to unr.edu, Equal Pay is defined as: To provide equal pay for men and women performing the same or substantially similar jobs in the same establishment, (As required by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 for employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act) (e.g., in a department store a female salesperson in the ladies shoe department must receive pay equal to that of a male salesperson in the men’s shoe department.)

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law, named after a woman who discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job, makes it easier for women to effectively challenge unequal pay.

Lilly Ledbetter took her pay discrimination complaint all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that claims like hers had to be filed within 180 days of an employer’s decision to pay a worker less—even if the worker didn’t learn about the unfair pay until much later, as was the case for Mrs. Ledbetter .

To help people to challange effectively unequal pay, the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was later signed, so that unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after each paycheck is issued.

The Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a comprehensive bill that updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work.

Equal pay and compensation rights under federal law

Men and women must be paid equal wages if they perform substantially the same work under the Equal Pay Act. “Equal pay” refers to more than just your paycheck. Under this law, all
employers must provide employees within the same establishment whose jobs require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions “equal pay,” including: an equal salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses and benefits. Unequal compensation cannot be justified unless the employer shows that the pay differential is based on a fair seniority, merit or incentive system, or a factor other than sex.

Knowning the Rights

Women are legally entitled to equal employment opportunities, including the right to earn a
paycheck that is free from unlawful bias, and, in many cases, the right to discuss their pay with colleagues.


Employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of your race, color, religion, sex or national origin in any terms or conditions of your employment, including compensation, hours and benefits.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer with at least 15 workers is prohibited from sex discrimination in the setting and paying  of wages for the same or similar work. In
addition to prohibiting different pay for men and women doing the same or similar job, Title VII prohibits the pay discrimination that results from unfairly denying women promotions and other forms of discrimination that can impact pay.

Fair employment practices agencies

Both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Many states and cities have similar fair employment practices agencies
that prohibit employment discrimination. Some of these laws cover employers with fewer
than 15 employees.

Discrimination charge

If employees have received an unfair paycheck within the last 180 days, they can file a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 clarified that each paycheck providing discriminatory compensation is a basis to make a claim under Title VII, regardless of when the discrimination
began. Under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, employees have up to 180 days (300 days in some states, counties and cities) after the most recent paycheck that reflects unequal wages to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Federal Contractors

If the employees work for a federal contractor, Executive Order (EO) 11246 prohibits their employer from discriminating in employment decisions, including compensation, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

If the employees work for a federal contractor or subcontractor and think you are being paid less than men who are similar to them (for example, they do similar work or have similar skills), or that an employment practice negatively affects the employees compensation based on their gender, the employees can contact the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in the U.S. Department of Labor for guidance or assistance. Such discriminatory pay is prohibited by Executive Order 11246. This Executive Order applies to a federal contractor, federally-assisted construction contractor, or a federal subcontractor with federal government contracts or subcontracts exceeding $10,000.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

Most private sector employees have the right to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions under the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects non-supervisory employees, who are covered by the Act, from employer retaliation when they discuss their wages or working conditions with their colleagues as part of an effort to improve them, even if there is no unionor other formal organization involved in the effort. These employee rights are enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

If some employees believe their rights under the National Labor Relations Act have been violated, or that an employer or a union has engaged in unlawful conduct, the employees affected may file a charge through one of National Labor Relations Board’s regional offices.

Presidential Efforts

President Obama’s steps to secure equal pay included:

Reversing Discrimination

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law, named after a woman who discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job, makes it easier for Mrs. Ledbetter and others like her to effectively challenge unequal pay.

Easy Access to Information

Thanks to the winners of the Equal Pay Apps Challenge, anyone with a smart phone, tablet or computer can now find tips on important salary topics from typical pay ranges, skill level requirements for certain jobs, how to negotiate salaries, and more.

There is a Equal Pay Task Force, established by President Obama in 2010.

Equal pay in relation to Public Officers

Find out in this American legal Encyclopedia the information on Equal pay in relation to Public Officers (and in the context of local government law).

Equal Pay in relation to Public Officers

Equal Pay in relation to Compensation

In the context of Local and State goverment law and Equal Pay, find out more detailed information about this topic in this American legal Encyclopedia.

Equal Pay Act Background

Proof of Violation of Equal Pay Act

This section discusses generally the subject of Proof of Violation of Equal Pay Act, how to determine the facts essential to Proof of Violation of Equal Pay Act, and, to some extent, how to prove it in litigation and defense. Related topics are also addressed.

Equal Pay: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Equal Pay. This part provides references, in relation to Equal Pay, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Equal Pay by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Equal Pay and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Equal Pay or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Equal Pay and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Equal Pay. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Equal Pay should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Equal Pay when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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