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A Message from the Chair

Post from Chair Jenny R. Yang - April 13, 2015

Equal Pay Day

This Tuesday, April 14, we mark Equal Pay Day, an occasion to consider just how far into the new year a woman would have to work to earn the very same wage as a man did in the previous year.

According to the latest U.S. Census income data, women who work full-time, year-round make $39,157 on average, compared to men's average earnings of $50,033. That translates to just 78 cents on the dollar. And the pay gap for women of color is even more stark. According to data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women face a pay gap in nearly every occupation. And a new study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research projects that the wage gap won't close until 2058. That is not soon enough.

At EEOC, we have made advancing the right to equal pay an important priority for our agency. Last year on Equal Pay Day, the President took action to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to perpetuate unlawful discrimination and to ensure that employees of federal contractors can talk about pay without fear of retaliation. EEOC is working to enforce the law and educate workers and employers about rights and responsibilities with regard to fair pay.

It has been an honor to serve on the White House Equal Pay Task Force. Since the creation of the Equal Pay Task Force in 2010, the Commission has received tens of thousands of charges of pay discrimination, and through our administrative enforcement efforts alone, the EEOC has obtained over $85 million in monetary relief for victims of sex-based wage discrimination. We are also taking important steps to combat the range of related issues that contribute to the pay gap, including pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. Data show that women are disproportionately represented in low wage and minimum wage jobs, and we are working to ensure that women do not face discriminatory barriers when they seek employment in higher paying nontraditional fields or when they apply for promotions.

Today, I am excited to announce the release of a new equal pay fact sheet to answer questions about rights guaranteed by the laws that EEOC enforces, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. These laws have long required equal pay for jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and we are taking important steps to fulfill the promise of paycheck fairness and equal employment opportunity.

Last year alone, the EEOC provided training on equal pay issues at events across the country that reached nearly 40,000 attendees. Our efforts are aimed at encouraging employers to take a hard look at their payrolls and their compensation practices to make sure that they are part of the solution and are putting in place policies that will ensure paycheck fairness. Here are some important steps that employers can take to ensure equal pay for equal work:

  • evaluate compensation systems annually and take action to correct problems;
  • designate individuals to monitor pay practices;
  • provide training to supervisors;
  • ensure that job related criteria are used to determine base pay, raises, overtime, and bonuses and in making decisions about performance evaluations, job assignments, and promotions;
  • set starting salaries that eliminate discriminatory pay gaps on the basis of prior salary or salary negotiations.

At EEOC, we are also taking legal action to combat discrimination and give women the right to equal employment opportunity. In 2014, the EEOC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Margaret Thibodeaux-Woody v. Houston Community College. Margaret Thibodeaux-Woody, a female faculty member, alleged that her employer violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by paying a male faculty member more for doing the same job. The college defended against these claims by arguing that the male employee negotiated for a higher salary, while Thibodeaux-Woody had not. However, the record revealed that Ms. Thibodeaux-Woody had tried to negotiate for a higher salary, but had been told by the hiring official that no negotiations were possible. In her legal challenge, the appellate court ultimately sided with Ms. Thibodeaux-Woody and the EEOC, explaining that differential success in salary negotiation is not a defense to a pay discrimination claim.

This case is important because it highlights the pitfalls for employers in relying on whether women negotiate pay raises as frequently or as successfully as men, as a job related justification for pay disparities. Indeed, research studies suggest that the deck is often stacked against women and that too many women face backlash in the salary negotiation process.

Unfair pay practices harm both employees and businesses and can expose companies to legal challenges, lost productivity, and low staff morale. At the end of the day, this core proposition should inform our consideration of this issue: all workers should be entitled to an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. Working together, we can make a real impact on fairness in pay.