Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Insurance Administration, which regulates the state’s insurance companies, for willfully paying female employees less than men who were doing the same work.
The lawsuit claims that since the end of 2009, the agency has paid Alexandra Cordaro, Mary Jo Rogers, Marlene Green, and a group of other women who worked as investigators or enforcement officers less than men at the agency for “substantially equal work” in similar roles.
The suit says the agency’s actions violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits paying men and women differently for equal work unless due to seniority or systems that pay based on the merit, quantity, or quality of work. It seeks to get the agency to end the different pay practices, institute equal employment policies for women, and pay back wages for the three women and other female employees who were potentially discriminated against.
In response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman with the agency said, “The Maryland Insurance Administration strongly disputes the allegations. The case will be vigorously defended.”
American women still make less than men in virtually every job, on average earning 78 percent of what men earn when they work full time, year round. While many factors go into the wage gap, such as the fact that women often have to take time out of their careers to care for family members and they tend to be clustered in lower-paying jobs, economists who study the gap consistently come up with a portion that can’t be explained by such factors, which could indicate bias or discrimination. Nearly a third of American women say they would be paid more if they were a man.
But it can be very difficult to prove that discrimination is motivating lower pay. One big obstacle is that about half of all employees say they are either banned or discouraged from talking about pay with their coworkers, even though they have a legal right to do so, which means many women may not be able to find out whether they are being paid less than men.
It can also be hard to prove that pay differences are due to bias. Francine Katz, formerly the highest-ranking woman executive at Anheuser-Busch, sued the company for allegedly discriminating against her by paying her less than the man that had her job before her and for paying all women on a lower tier than the male executives paid at the top tier. But she lost her case, and the jury foreman said “the evidence was not enough to single out gender.” The experience is common: employees alleging pay discrimination have only wonabout a third of equal pay claims over the last decade.
Meanwhile, U.S. law may require equal pay for equal work, but it doesn’t require equal pay for similar work in different jobs. Yet in the states that experimented with such requirements and with regular audits of payscales in the 1980s, the wage gap dropped significantly.
This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.