California and Federal laws generally prohibit an employer from paying its employees less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex. This applies when the employees' jobs require equal work, skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions and in the same establishment. (Cal. Labor Code section 1197.5.) As an example, an employer would not be permitted to pay a female secretary less than a male secretary working in the same office and performing the same job duties. To do so would violate the equal pay laws.
Exceptions to the Equal Pay Rule
While prohibiting wage discrimination, the equal pay laws, do not prevent employers from compensating employees of the opposite sex differently for legitimate reasons, including based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or another system based on any bona fide factor other than sex. In other words, an employer can still reward its employees for good work performance without violating the equal pay laws.
An Employee's Remedies for Wage Discrimination
Wage discrimination is viewed as a very serious matter in California, which is reflected in the remedies available to an aggrieved employee. An employee who was the victim of wage discrimination in violation of the equal pay laws is entitled to recover the wages he or she lost due to the discrimination, plus interest. The employee is also entitled to recover an additional equal amount from the employer as liquidated damages. For example, this means that an employee who was deprived of $15,000 in wages due to his or her employer's violation of the equal pay laws would be entitled to recover the unpaid $15,000 with interest, plus an additional $15,000 with interest, for a total recovery in excess of $30,000. In the event a law suit is necessary to recover these damages, an employee may also be entitled to an award of attorney's fees.
Wage discrimination is a serious matter that should not be overlooked by California employers or employees. California employers should be cognizant of the applicable laws when setting a pay scale for its employees. Similarly, California employees should be aware of their rights to equal pay and when those rights have been violated. When in doubt, it is important to consult with an experienced employment attorney.
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