EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
State and Local Government Employer Pay Discrimination: Title VII, Equal Pay Act, ADEA
August 10, 2015
This is in response to your letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) Chair, Jenny Yang, dated June 25, 2015. You explain that in your role as ___, you also serve as the Chief Operating Officer of the County and routinely present employee pay increases to the Court for approval. You state that on___, the Court approved a status change from temporary to full-time employment and a pay increase of $.50 cents per hour for a County employee who is a 21-year-old Caucasian woman.
You report that on ___, the Court denied the same status change and pay increase for another County employee, a 22-year-old Caucasian man.(1) The Court also denied the same pay increase for a County employee who is a 65-year-old Caucasian man and whose status change from temporary to full-time employment was approved in ___. Indeed, you assert that the Court denied the same pay increases for all of their other employees and that you are concerned the Court acted unfairly under federal law.
To obtain a finding of whether these denials of pay increases were discriminatory, those aggrieved would need to file a “charge of discrimination” with the EEOC. Because the EEOC may not assess the legality of particular employment practices outside the context of investigating specific charges of discrimination, this letter is an informal discussion of the issues you raise.
There are several laws enforced by the EEOC under which the County employees could file charges if they choose, including: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII); the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). These laws generally prohibit pay discrimination, and other forms of employment discrimination, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and age (40 or above).
Title VII broadly prohibits discriminatory compensation practices on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Title VII also prohibits discriminatory practices that indirectly affect compensation, such as limiting protected groups to lower paying jobs. State and local government employers are subject to Title VII if they have 15 or more employees for at least twenty calendar weeks in the same year as the alleged violation or in the previous year. An aggrieved individual in ___ has 300 days from the date of alleged harm(2) to file a Title VII charge with the EEOC. An EEOC charge is a prerequisite to filing a Title VII lawsuit in federal court.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA)
The EPA prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women if they work in the same establishment and perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. Unequal compensation can be justified only if the employer shows that the pay differential is attributable to a bona fide seniority, merit, or incentive system, or any other factor other than sex. The EPA covers all employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Virtually all employers are subject to the provisions of the FLSA, including state and local governments.(3) Therefore, virtually all government agency employers are covered by the EPA, regardless of the number of employees.
Although the EPA’s protections overlap with Title VII, they are not identical. The EPA is not as broad as Title VII because the EPA only prohibits sex-based differences in compensation for substantially equal jobs in the same establishment. Unlike Title VII, the EPA does not prohibit discriminatory practices that indirectly affect compensation. Although not all pay practices that violate Title VII also violate the EPA, the Commission’s EPA guidelines state that a practice that violates the EPA also will violate Title VII.(4)
The time limit for filing an EPA charge with the EEOC is within two years of the alleged violation, or, in the case of a willful violation, within three years. The EPA provides an option of filing a lawsuit without first filing an EPA charge with the EEOC. The time limit for filing an EPA charge with the EEOC and the time limit for filing a lawsuit in court are the same; the filing of an EPA charge does not extend the deadline of two or three years for filing a lawsuit. Additionally, while the deadline for filing an EPA charge may be longer than that for filing a Title VII charge, it is advisable to file EEOC charges under both laws within the shorter time limit for filing a Title VII charge (300 days in ___) since many EPA claims also raise Title VII sex discrimination issues.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
Finally, the ADEA protects applicants, current employees, and retirees age forty and older. It prohibits compensation discrimination based on age. Like Title VII, the ADEA also prohibits discriminatory practices that indirectly affect compensation. State and local government employers are covered under the ADEA regardless of their number of employees.(5)
The timeline for filing an ADEA charge is the same as filing a Title VII charge; i.e., in___, 300 days from the date of alleged harm.(6) An EEOC charge is a prerequisite to filing an ADEA lawsuit in federal court.
If any of the employees who were denied employment status changes and/or pay increases by the _______ Court believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against on one or multiple bases, they may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC are confidential, as is any ensuing investigation or voluntary resolution through conciliation. The charge becomes public only if and when an action is filed in court.
While this letter does not constitute an official opinion or interpretation by the EEOC, we hope this information is helpful to you. If you have further questions about this matter, please contact me or General Attorney Laura Ardito by calling the Office of Legal Counsel at (202) 663-4909.
Carol R. Miaskoff
Assistant Legal Counsel
1 Your letter states that the employee is a 22-year-old Caucasian female, but we assume the letter meant to state “male” due to the context of the letter and the employee’s traditionally male first name.
2 If a charge alleges compensation discrimination under Title VII or the ADEA, “the filing period begins when any of the following occurs: 1) the employer adopts a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice affecting compensation; 2) the charging party becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice affecting compensation; or 3) the charging party’s compensation is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or part from such discriminatory decision or practice.” EEOC Compliance Manual, Section 2-IV(C)(4), Threshold Issues- Compensation Discrimination (Aug. 2009), http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/threshold.html#2-IV-C-4.
3 See EEOC Website, Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions And Answers, Section IV, http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html (last visited July 24, 2015).
4 See EEOC Compliance Manual, Section 10-II, Compensation Discrimination-Overview (Dec. 5, 2000), http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/compensation.html.
5 See EEOC Compliance Manual, Section 2-III(B)(1)(a)(i), Threshold Issues- Covered Entities (May 12, 2000), http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/threshold.html#2-III-B-1-a-i. In Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 120 S. Ct. 631 (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the ADEA, private age discrimination suits against states are impermissible unless the state waives its sovereign immunity. Kimel does not preclude private ADEA suits against local governments, however. EEOC Compliance Manual, Section 2-III(B)(1)(a)(i), fn. 100, http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/threshold.html#2-III-B-1-a-i.
6 See text quoted supra note 4.
This page was last modified on September 14, 2015.
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