The Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, a Toothless Lion for Decades, was Rewritten in July and may now become an Effective Weapon against Gender Pay Discrepancies
By Jack K. Merrill, Esq.
It was a long time coming, but promises of gender pay fairness in Massachusetts now have a chance of being fulfilled. A rewritten Equal Pay Act seeks to erase enforcement roadblocks set up by courts as it gives employers time to head off pay discrimination lawsuits.
The legislature hopes that the new law will eliminate gender pay gaps without a rush to the courthouse. As it redefines the proof standard for pay bias, the law gives employers nearly two years to evaluate pay scales and make “reasonable progress” to eliminate gender discrepancies. Those who do so may have an absolute defense to lawsuits. Those who don’t will face individual or class action claims.
Like most wage lawsuits, pay discrimination claims will be costly. Employers who lose will pay double the amount of wage shortfalls that result from gender pay differentials. They’ll also be required to pay employee legal fees and lawsuit costs in addition to their own. These expenses will be high in any equal pay case. In class actions, they’ll likely be exorbitant.
The key change that makes the revised Act worrisome for employers is the definition of the term “comparable,” the foundation on which pay differences between men and women are determined. Courts now require women to prove their job duties ‘have important common qualities’ with those of male counterparts. That requirement, a very difficult one to satisfy, is being replaced, and women – or men, of course – will soon win equal pay claims by proving only that their jobs require the same levels of skill, effort and responsibility as the jobs to which they are compared. [Read more…]