Equal Pay for Equal Work: How our clients' fight to be paid what they were owed helped all women in the battle to close the gender pay gap

Cedar Rapids Employment Discrimination Attorney 

It was 2011 when I first met the three women who I would end up representing for nearly six years. These women came to me after they learned that they were being paid substantially less than the men who were performing the same job at a large furniture manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. All three women were managers working in a male dominated workplace. They were like a lot of women I know—smart, hard-working and dedicated employees. Still, they were being paid less than men for doing the same work. 

We brought claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. In 2015, before the trial, the case went to the Iowa Supreme Court to answer a certified question about the time period for recovering damages under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 

We held a jury trial in Davenport, Iowa, in the summer of 2015. The jury was made up of both men and women, and the jury found in favor of our clients for all of the equal pay claims. The jury also found that the employer's conduct was willful and awarded punitive damages. Throughout discovery in the case, we learned that all of the women managers at the manufacturing plant were being paid less than men performing the same work and we were able to present that evidence to the jury. 

The employer then appealed the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 3, 2017, the 8th Circuit ruled in favor of our clients. The ruling can be found here. The Court held that the employer had failed to show that economic conditions were the reason for the pay difference. The Court also held that evidence of the other women managers who were being paid less was admissible. As discussed by Bloomberg in an article discussing the ruling, the Court also held that Department of Labor audit results were not admissible. We believe these victories will help women employees in future cases to successfully prove their claims of wage discrimination.

Throughout the six years that we worked on this case, my clients stood strong in their belief that they and all women should be paid equally. They brought the same level of dedication to this case that had allowed them to advance to management in a male-dominated field. This case proves that we really can change the workplace for the better—one case at a time. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work - What Every Working Woman Needs to Know

Women employee's contribution to the workplace is "immeasurable" as Forbes recently reported. "Women learn to do more with less, they are resourceful, and develop a unique political awareness." Despite the significant value that women workers bring to the workforce, in 2015 the AAUW reported that women were still only making 80% of what their male co-workers were making for the same job! At the current rate of improvement, women are not expected to reach pay equity until 2059. My daughter will be nearing retirement age by then!  The gender pay gap raises great concern among working women, but there are a few key things that as an employment lawyer, I believe every working woman should know. 

  1. Equal pay for equal work is the law. The federal Equal Pay Act, Title VII and Iowa's Equal Pay Act require that employers pay men and women equally if they perform substantially similar work. The work does not have to be identical and it does not matter if the employees have different job titles as long as the work is substantially similar. 

  2. All claims for discriminatory pay have a time limit to file a claim. The Iowa Equal Pay Act and Title VII require employees to file a complaint with the EEOC or Iowa Civil Rights Commission within 300 days of receiving the last discriminatory paycheck. The Equal Pay Act has a 2 or 3 year statute of limitations and does not require a filing with the EEOC, but has limits on the amount of damages recoverable. If you think you may have a claim and are concerned about these time limits, you should speak with an employment lawyer. 

  3. It's against the law for your employer to fire you for making a claim of discriminatory pay. Title VII, The Iowa Civil Rights Act and the EPA all prohibit retaliation by an employer for making a complaint of discrimination. Retaliation includes not only firing but other actions by an employer that negatively impact your employment. 

  4. Executives and women in leadership roles are more likely to be paid less than men in the same roles. You may assume that because you have advanced to a leadership role in your organization that you are not being paid unfairly, but the opposite is true. The Harvard Business Review reported that the pay gap widens for executive women, women with children and women with advanced degrees. 

  5. You can help close the pay gap for yourself and others. I believe that the most effective way for women to address the gender pay gap is to do everything in their power to make sure they are being paid equally as their male co-workers. If you know that you are not being paid fairly or suspect that is true you should raise the issue with your employer. If you continue to be paid unfairly or have left an employer where you were paid unfairly, you should talk with a lawyer and consider bringing a claim against your employer. Equal pay claims have different legal standards from other types of discrimination that can make it easier to prove claims based on unequal pay. 

Women employees know they are just as valuable to their employers as their male co-workers. They deserve to be paid the same. It is not only what is fair, but it is the law. 

Imagine you’re a little girl. You’re growing up. You practice as hard as you can, with girls, with boys. You have a dream. You fight, you work, you sacrifice to get to this stage. You work as hard as anyone you know. And then you get to this stage, and you’re told you’re not the same as a boy. Almost as good, but not quite the same. Think how devastating and demoralizing that could be.
— Venus Williams

The information on this page is intended to be helpful but should not replace formal legal advice. If you would like to speak with an Iowa employment lawyer about a potential claim for discriminatory pay, please call us at (319) 826-2250.