Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP

Do Men and Women Receive Equal Pay in America?

Though there have been attempts made to correct the problem, the gender pay gap lives on in modern-day America. Even in positions that ask women to work full-time and year-round, women still generally make less than their male counterparts. On average, based on statistics for women who work full-time in America, women are paid approximately 84% of what men are paid. That translates to a little less than $0.84 for every dollar made by a man.

Studies show that younger women have started to edge closer towards men’s income levels in recent years. Even so, that doesn’t mean equal pay. Generally speaking, young women in the workforce make about $0.90 for every dollar that a man makes. Things get worse the older women get and the longer they’ve been in the workforce. As women age, their pay relative to that of the income of men of the same age has been shown to decrease.

Workplace inequality is not exclusive to men and women, though. There are many examples of workers making less than their counterparts based on their race, ethnicity, religion, disability status, military status, pregnancy, and LGBTQ identity.

Thankfully, some states, including California, have stepped up to address this problem where the United States government has come up short.

What is the California Equal Pay Act?

Originally enacted in 1949, the California Equal Pay Act (EPA) was meant to address the wage gap between men and women. However, the original law had several loopholes that many employers sought to exploit. In 2015, Governor Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act into law, which made it illegal for an employer to pay any of their employees a wage less than the rates paid to other employees of similar job descriptions because of their race or gender.

The most significant changes to the Equal Pay Act include the following:

  • Employers can no longer retaliate against their employees for discussing or inquiring about the wages of their coworkers.
  • Legitimate factors relayed by the employer for pay inequities must be applied reasonably and accurately to account for the pay difference.
  • Made it more difficult for employers to justify inequality in pay through ‘the bona fide factor other than sex’ legal defense.
  • Requirements for equal pay for employees who perform ‘substantially similar work.’
  • Retaliation against employees who seek to enforce the Equal Pay Act is illegal.
  • The number of years that employers must maintain records on employment and wages was extended from two to three years.

These provisions came into effect on January 1, 2016.

Can California Employers Pay You Less Than a Co-Worker Because of Your Gender?

No, a California employer is prohibited from paying reduced employee wages to a worker because of their gender, race, or ethnicity if they perform a ‘substantially similar’ job under ‘similar working conditions.’

It doesn’t matter what the employer’s intent was. They could have very well meant to pay you the same as those workers of the opposite sex, race, or ethnicity but simply failed to do so. You are entitled to equal pay. An employer who violates the Equal Pay Act may be held liable.

What is the Definition of ‘Substantially Similar Work?’

A previous loophole of the California Equal Pay Act allowed employers to assign different job titles to workers so that they could claim that they had different job responsibilities. The newly updated Fair Pay Act circumvents this loophole by substituting ‘substantially similar work’ in place of the previous ‘equal work’ standard. This means that employers can no longer use different job titles or make small adjustments to work responsibilities to avoid liability for equal pay. Again, it does not matter if an employer did not intend to pay you less because of your gender, race, or ethnicity. If they violated the law, then they could be held liable.

Can You Discuss Your Salary with Your Work Colleagues?

Yes. The new version of the Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from punishing employees for discussing salaries with others. Previously, employees could get in deep trouble for that, and it was strongly discouraged. Under the new law, you can freely discuss your salary and wage earnings with your colleagues without fear of retaliation from your employer. However, if your employer does retaliate, then they are violating the Equal Pay Act, and you can seek legal action against them.

What Are Your Legal Options if Your Employer Violates the Fair Pay Act?

If you believe your employer has violated the Equal Pay Act and your employment law rights in the state of California, you can file an official complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The DFEH is responsible for reviewing all claims of workplace discrimination and employment law violations. By filing a claim, the DFEH can help you get compensated for your losses.

Additionally, you can also file a lawsuit against your employer with the help of an employment law attorney. If you wish to file a suit against your employers for employment law violations, you must do so within two years of the inciting incident, or else your case may be thrown out as it has not met the statute of limitations.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Experienced Employment Law Attorneys Today

The Equal Pay Act is meant to protect employees who are in the minority at their workplace. Women should not make less than men in the same job position, nor should workers be paid less because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or LGBTQ identity. If you feel that your legal rights have been violated by your employer, please contact our law firm to discuss your case with our experienced legal team.

Contact us at our Oakland law office at 510-254-3777 or at our San Francisco office at 415-433-4589.


Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.

Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP