Employment Law Report
Where Wage Disparity Exists, Court Holds that Employers have Heavy Burden to Prove the Reason for Disparity
The Fourth Circuit recently issued a decision in EEOC v. Maryland Insurance Administration, No. 16-2408 (4th Cir. Jan. 5, 2018), joining the Third, Sixth and Tenth Circuits in finding that the statutory language of Section 206(d) of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) requires an employer to provide evidence that the employer’s affirmative defenses do in fact explain the wage disparity; it is not enough for the employer to possibly explain the wage disparity.
The Fourth Circuit denied summary judgment because there were fact issues for trial as to whether the salary difference between the male and female employees was due to factors other than gender. The Court explained the parties’ respective evidentiary burdens as follows:
- The employee must show that the employer paid different wages to an employee of the opposite sex for equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions.
- The employee does not have to establish that males, as a class, receive higher wages than females as a class; rather, the employee must demonstrate that there is discrimination in pay against the employee with respect to only one employee of the opposite sex.
- It is irrelevant to the employee’s initial burden that other employees of the opposite sex perform substantially identical work as the employee, but make less money than her.
- If the employee meets the initial burden and proves that a disparity exists, the employer must prove that the disparity was justified by one of four affirmative defenses: a seniority system; a merit system; a pay system based on quantity or quality of output; or, a disparity based on any factor other than gender.
- If an employer fails to establish one or more of these affirmative defenses, the employee will win summary judgment. In contrast, it is a heavy burden for the employer to establish one of the four affirmative defenses as a matter of law.
Take away for employers: Several circuits require that employers explain the reason for the wage disparity in terms of concrete facts, not in terms of what may have caused the wage disparity. Wage disparity claims are gaining steam and are in the news across the nation. Employers are wise to review their wage practices now to ensure that wage disparity does not exist because once these claims are brought, the employers’ evidentiary burden will be heavy.