When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, he called it a “first step” and one which “affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.” Despite the many federal statutes passed since the Equal Pay Act, “equal pay” remains a hot-button issue and the subject of protests aimed at correcting an actual and/or perceived disparity. Locally, the New Orleans Police Department estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 protesters took part in the Women’s March in New Orleans on Saturday, January 21, 2017.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an executive order during the week following the protests wherein he requested that a pay disparity survey be conducted by the Civil Service Commission. He further announced a ban of questions about salary history during the hiring process for New Orleans city employees, noting, “It is unacceptable that, on average, women make just 79% of what men make. We need equal pay for equal work.”
Mayor Landrieu’s order is limited to city jobs and follows a year when some state officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, were dealt a defeat in the Legislature on a separate equal pay measure. The state “equal pay” measure ultimately passed the Senate, but was defeated in a House committee.
The right of employees to be free from discrimination in their compensation is protected under many federal laws, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, the Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work. Pay differentials are permitted only when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex. Of course, these bases provide affirmative defenses that can be raised by the employer in the event of a lawsuit.
Whether the recent protests will become a catalyst for further “equal pay” legislation is not known; what is known is that the issue has been around since before John F. Kennedy and does not appear to be going away anytime soon.