I Don't Make Equal Pay For Equal Work. Can I Sue?

Income differences between men and women

An AOL Jobs reader asks:

I'm an Administrative Assistant at my company. I do more than the Executive Assistant and I even assist the president who she works for because he asks me for things instead of her.
I make the minimum an Administrative Assistant can make. I have recently taken on responsibilities of a COO, HR rep, and financial coordinator who left (given to me by the director). Based on the EEOC, job content determines whether or not jobs are equal, not titles. With that said can I file suit if I'm not approved for a raise?

Yes, equal pay for equal work is the law, but it doesn't always apply. The Equal Pay Act says that men and women must be paid equally for equal work. Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act combine to say that employers can't discriminate in pay based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, pregnancy, genetic information, age, or disability.
If the Executive Assistant who does the same or a very similar job is of a different race, age sex, religion, national origin or other protected status from you, then you may well be the victim of illegal discrimination. There's no law, however, saying employers must pay all employees the same for the same work if they are the same race, age, national origin, etc. Discrimination against you for being you is not illegal.

Yes, it is the job duties and not the title that matters in comparing whether the two jobs are similar enough that they should be paid the same. An employer can't call a woman's job "Assistant" and a man's job "Manager" and then use the different job titles as an excuse to pay the man more. On the other hand, if the jobs are truly different, then you may have a tougher time proving discrimination.

Even if you can show you are doing the same or very similar work as your coworker and the coworker is in a different protected category from you, the employer may still be able to prove a legitimate reason other than discrimination for the pay disparity. For instance, seniority, quality or quantity of work could be factors a court or jury would consider to justify the unequal pay.

If you do think you are the victim of illegal pay discrimination, then I suggest putting together a formal written complaint to HR and explain why you think illegal discrimination based on race, sex, age, or other protected category is occurring. If they won't fix the situation, if they retaliate, or if you don't feel comfortable contacting HR on your own, you should contact an employment attorney in your state to discuss your rights and your options.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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