In 1963, the U.S. government enacted a law that regulates employers. Whether you work for a privately owned company, a state government agency or the federal government, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) protects you.
In the past, and even sometimes today, women often received lower wages even though they possessed the same set of skills and performed the same duties as their male counterparts in the workplace. The EPA says employers may no longer do that. If you work at the same place as a particular man, and the two of you do the same job, then you should receive equal pay. If that's not the case where you work, there are things you can do to rectify the situation.
Discrimination based on biological gender
Certain types of discrimination in the workplace are not legal. Whether you're the main breadwinner in your household or share that responsibility with someone else, you have a right to earn the same wages as other co-workers if you do the same job. However, proving that you deserve equal pay isn't always easy. Let's say you raise the issue with the appropriate officials and instead of resolving the problem, they say your wages are based on a merit system and that is why a male counterpart is making more than you are.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
A year after the enactment of the EPA, lawmakers passed a new law called the Civil Rights Act. Title VII of that law establishes protected classes and prohibits employers from discriminating against members of those protected classes. In other words, employment discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race or national origin is not legal. Employment practices that violate the EPA also often violate Title VII.
Willful or non-willful?
When proving you have suffered illegal discrimination at work, you need to provide evidence to show the court that your employer either non-willfully broke employment laws or willfully tried to undermine your rights. There are different penalties for each. There are also stipulations as to how much time may pass between realizing you haven't been paid as much as the men you work with and when you make your complaint.
The bottom line is that you don't have to passively accede to illegal employment practices. If you can show that you are entitled to equal pay and your employer can't establish a case by saying there is a logical reason for the disparity, you maybe able to obtain compensation for retroactive earnings as well as higher future pay. An attorney can review your situation and explain your legal options.