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Filing a Wage Discrimination Claim in California

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The time and labor that a worker provides should be compensated fairly regardless of the demographics of the individual workers themselves. If two employees are performing equal work, they should receive equal pay. If one of them is paid less than the other because they are a different race or gender, that employee may have a viable wage discrimination claim. Both federal and state laws protect the rights of workers and prohibit employment discrimination when it comes to pay that is based on any protected class.


What is Wage Discrimination?

The language of the law is constantly evolving in an effort to protect workers and their right to fair and equal treatment. Employment decisions such as wages and benefits cannot be made based on things like gender, race, or religion. Wage discrimination can be more than just one group of people being given a lower payrate than another group. Some employers might only choose members of a certain group for advancement and management positions. Or they might prevent members of one group from accessing training opportunities. When making performance-based pay raise decisions, an employer might hold one group of people to a higher or stricter standard than others to justify paying them less.


What are Unfair Wages?

Unfair wages are violations of wage law including:

  • Wage Discrimination
  • Payrates Below Minimum Wage
  • Wage Theft
  • Not Paying Overtime

There are laws in place at the federal and state levels as well as local regulations to ensure that employees are being compensated fairly for their work. When employers violate these laws, there are legal remedies available to hold them accountable. This includes filing complaints with the respective government agencies as well as filing a civil wage claim.


What Federal Laws Protect Against Wage Discrimination?

While there are some individual state laws that protect against pay discrimination, there are also federal laws that apply throughout the entire country.

1963: The Equal Pay Act – This law established the first federal protections against sex-based wage discrimination. This law prohibits employers from paying one sex a lower wage when they are performing equal work requiring equal levels of effort and skill under the same conditions. An employer could have a valid defense against a claim that they violated this law if the pay discrepancy is due to other factors such as seniority or individual performance.

1964: Title VII of the Equal Rights Act – This law protects employees from being discriminated against due to their:

  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex (including Pregnancy)

Employers with at least 15 employees are prohibited from all kinds of employment discrimination against these protected classes, including unfair wages and discriminatory wage structures.

1967: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act – This law forbids employers who have at least 20 employees from discriminating against employees based on their age. This law specifically offers protection to employees who are aged 40 or older. There are some states that offer protection to younger employees as well. California is not one of those states and only offers protections against age discrimination to employees who are at least 40 years old.

1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act – This law was created to protect people with disabilities against employment discrimination. Employers are prohibited from making wage and benefit decisions based on any disabilities the employee may have. As with Title VII, this law applies to employers who have at least 15 employees.


What Types of Wages are Covered by Laws Enforced by the EEOC?

Legal protections against wage discrimination apply to more than just base pay rate. There are many different types of wages and benefits that could be affected, including but not limited to:

  • Hourly rate
  • Salary
  • Overtime
  • Holiday pay
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Profit sharing
  • Bonuses
  • Stock options
  • Paid time off
  • Reimbursement
  • Travel expenses
  • Cleaning allowances
  • Gas allowances


What California Laws Protect Against Wage Discrimination?

At the state level, the California Fair Pay Act of 2016 specifies that employees of differing sex, race, or ethnicity must be paid equal wages for performing substantially similar work. The concept of substantially similar work is determined by the skills needed to perform the work as well as the effort and responsibility involved. Two positions may be considered substantially similar even if they have different job titles.


How Does the Equal Pay Act / Fair Pay Act Impact Wage Discrimination?

Another way in which the law regulates wages is by ensuring that if disparities are discovered, the employer cannot lower the higher wages in order to balance them. Furthermore, if an employee believes they are a victim of an EPA violation, they are able to file a claim with the court without having to file with the EEOC first. If the employer engages in discriminatory practices for wages and benefits, a claim must be filed within two years. If there is a targeted willful violation, the employee may have up to three years to file a claim. If the employee does file a charge with the EEOC as well, that does not extend or change the statute of limitations for filing an EPA violation claim with the court.


What Are Some Examples of the Different Types of Wage Discrimination?

Federal and state laws prohibiting illegal pay discrimination apply to certain demographics or categories known as protected classes. This includes:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Color
  • Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Gender / Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Disabilities
  • Genetic Information

Some employers commit wage discrimination by paying female employees less than male employees. Some might only provide training and advancement opportunities to white employees and not anyone else. Employees with disabilities might be offered fewer benefits or less paid vacation time. An employee over 40 might be held to higher performance standards for raises than their younger counterparts.


What are Some Valid Reasons for Wage Discrimination?

There are occasions where it is completely legal for an employee who is a member of a protected class to be paid less than their coworker. If the motivation has nothing to do with the protected class and the discrepancy amount is reasonable, the employer may have a valid defense against a discrimination claim. Legal reasons for paying different wages for substantially similar work include:

  • Yearly raises resulting in higher pay for those with more seniority
  • Raises and bonuses based on quality and quantity of work
  • Incentives to work undesirable shifts such as graveyard
  • Higher salaries for employees with specialized certifications and degrees
  • Higher starting pay for employees with more experience

It is also important that all employees are given equal opportunities for things like additional training or higher paying shifts and held to the same standards for things like performance-based raises.


What Are Your Rights When You Are Experiencing Wage Discrimination?

Any employee facing illegal discrimination in pay has a right to make a complaint with their employer. You can also file charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the applicable state government agency such as the California Civil Rights Department (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing). If an employee makes these complaints or participates in related investigations, the employer is prohibited from retaliating against them. California employees have the right to request a copy of their personnel file to obtain more detailed information. You also have the right to speak to an employment attorney and file a lawsuit.


What Can a Worker Who is Experiencing Wage Discrimination Do?

There are many steps that you can take if you believe that you are experiencing wage discrimination.

  1. Internal Research – Go over your employment contract, employee handbook, and collective bargaining agreement if you have one. Familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures involving compensation, employment decisions, discrimination, and the internal complaint process for the company.
  2. Collect Evidence – Obtain any documents that show your pay and job duties in relation to those of your coworkers. Keep a detailed record of conversations with management or other employees about pay rates or employment decisions. Save copies of all emails, text messages, performance evaluations, complaints, and any other official documents.
  3. Make a Formal Complaint – Your employer should have a documented procedure for making internal complaints about discrimination. It is also generally advised that complaints about wage violations, discrimination, or retaliation be made via email to human resources or the equivalent department. Be as clear and detailed as possible and always keep copies of the complaints you make.
  4. Collective Action – Union members can contact their representative to discuss their options for filing a grievance or otherwise resolving the issue under the collective bargaining agreement. If you are not part of a union, you can still take collective action with any coworkers experiencing the same issues by filing a group complaint or holding a joint meeting with management.
  5. Government Agencies – Charges regarding violations of the EPA must be filed with the EEOC within two years of the last applicable paycheck. If the violation was made willfully, that deadline may be extended to three years. Charges regarding violations of Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964 must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days. Charges regarding violations of the CA Fair Pay Act must be filed with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement within two years of the last applicable paycheck. If the violation was made willfully, that deadline may be extended to three years.
  6. Get an Attorney – Speaking with an employment attorney can be beneficial in many ways. They can advise you on your rights and options, fight for you against your employer, file a lawsuit if necessary, and represent you in court.


What is Required to Substantiate an Equal Pay Act Claim?

The presence of a protected class and differing compensation are not enough to prove a valid claim of wage discrimination. The employees being paid differently must be performing substantially similar work as well. There are multiple factors that are examined when determining if two or more employees are performing substantially similar work.

  • Establishment – The work must be performed within the same place of business, not just under the same company. There are situations where multiple separate physical locations may be considered the same establishment, such as when employment decisions for all locations are made by the same administration department.
  • Conditions – The environment must be the same in regard to things like temperature, air quality, exposure to elements, and safety hazards.
  • Responsibility – The employees must have the same level of accountability.
  • Skills – The jobs must require the same type of education, training, and experience as well as performance abilities.
  • Effort – The jobs must require the same level of exertion; either physically or mentally.


Substantiating a Claim Under the Equal Pay Act

Filing a claim of wage discrimination under the EPA requires you to prove:

  • You received unequal pay
  • You were paid less due to your sex
  • Employees of a different sex in the same establishment were paid more
  • Your work was substantially similar to those employees
  • The jobs required the same skills, effort, and responsibilities

Your employer has the right to defend themselves and prove that you were paid differently for legal reasons not based on sex.


Substantiating a Claim Under Title VII

Filing a claim of wage discrimination under Title VII requires you to prove:

  • You belong to a protected class
  • You performed your job duties satisfactorily
  • You were not given equal pay for your work
  • You were paid less because of your protected class

Your employer has the right to defend themselves and prove that you were paid differently for legal reasons. There have been many successful wage discrimination cases where there was not an intentional act but instead, a general pay structure or policy that caused a discriminatory disparate impact.


What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Wage Discrimination Claim?

The statute of limitations for filing a wage claim with the EEOC depends on the law being broken:

  • Violations of the EPA – Two years from last paycheck; Three years for willful violations
  • Violations of Title VII, ADA, or ADEA – 180 days from last paycheck

If you are retaliated against for filing a wage discrimination claim under the EPA, you have one year from the date of retaliation in which to file a lawsuit.


What are the Potential Outcomes in a Wage Discrimination Claim?

Some of the remedies sought in a wage discrimination claim may include but are not limited to:

  • Backpay of the wages that you should have been earning and lost out on.
  • Improvements made to company policies and pay structures.
  • Termination of those responsible for making discriminatory pay decisions.
  • Reinstatement of employment if wrongfully terminated in retaliation for complaints.
  • Compensation for lost wages if wrongfully terminated in retaliation for complaints.
  • Compensation for emotional distress or other related damages.


Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Are Dealing with Wage Discrimination

Everyone has a right to be compensated fairly for their work and protected from discrimination by their employer. The law not only protects these rights, but also allows employees to take action when those rights are violated. Having an employment attorney to guide you through the legal process can level the playing field when going up against a company and their legal team. Our firm believes in your rights as an employee and will do everything in our power to get you the compensation you deserve. If you have been the victim of wage discrimination, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.


Wage Discrimination FAQs

What are examples of wage discrimination?

The following are some examples of possible wage discrimination:

• Jane is the only woman on a team with three men. They all perform the same job duties for the same projects and have the same training and experience. Jane makes $50k a year while her teammates make $100k a year.
• Company Inc has one pay rate for their non-supervisory employees, a higher pay rate for team leaders, and an even higher pay rate for management. However, only white employees are ever promoted to management.
• Lucy is disabled and utilizes accommodations. Even though she does her job well and always meets or exceeds expectations, she is consistently given poor performance reviews and denied pay raises. Her coworkers who perform the same duties at or below her performance level are always given positive reviews and pay raises.
• Business LLC offers higher pay rates and incentives for employees who complete their skills improvement training courses. Ron asked his boss if he could undergo the training courses and was told that there was no point in improving his skills because he was 60 years old and would probably retire soon.

How do you prove wage discrimination?

The best way to prove any claim is with hard evidence. Documents such as pay stubs, job descriptions, performance reviews, and emails or text messages discussing wage decisions can all be helpful. To prove that you are the victim of illegal wage discrimination, you must prove that your employer provided you with less compensation than your coworkers who perform substantially similar work because you belong to a protected class.

How do you deal with wage discrimination?

If you are facing wage discrimination it is important to learn and understand your rights and options under the law. Gather as much evidence as you can, and follow the procedures laid out by your employer for making a formal complaint. You can also file charges with the EEOC or your state government agencies such as the California Civil Rights Department or the Labor Commissioner. You can also speak with an employment lawyer for advice and representation if necessary.

About the Author
Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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