We once worked for a law firm where every single female associate earned less than every single male associate of equal seniority. Amazingly, none of the aggrieved and underpaid females complained. Had they done so (especially the ones who were planning to hang out a shingle soon anyway) they would have had a good case for a violation of Labor Code § 1197.5.
(a) No employer shall pay any individual in the employer's employ at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where the payment is made pursuant to a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any bona fide factor other than sex.
(b) Any employer who violates subdivision (a) is liable to the employee affected in the amount of the wages, and interest thereon, of which the employee is deprived by reason of the violation, and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.
(g) Any employee receiving less than the wage to which the employee is entitled under this section may recover in a civil action the balance of the wages, including interest thereon, and an equal amount as liquidated damages, together with the costs of the suit and reasonable attorney's fees, notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage.
Though we are aware of no criminal prosecutions ever arising out of a violation of section 1197.5, Labor Code § 1199.5 provides that every employer "or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person" is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both, who willfully does any of the following: (a) Pays or causes to be paid any employee a wage less than the rate paid to an employee of the opposite sex as required by Section 1197.5. (b) Reduces the wages of any employee in order to comply with Section 1197.5.
Thus, no employer can respond to a complaint by dropping everyone else's salary to match that of the lower-paid female. Bravo! Curiously, there is a "warning" provision in the statute, which says that no person shall be imprisoned under this statute for a first offense.
The reason we mention this, of course, is that we recently had a prospective client come in with what we believe to be a pretty good case. Any readers who would like to have their situations reviewed to see if they have a claim should never inquire by posting a comment. Instead, drop us an email and we would be happy to give you a free evaluation of your potential equal pay act violation.