Pay equity challenges continue to make the news in the healthcare setting, primarily in the context of physician pay equity gaps. This month, the journal Pediatrics published data from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Pediatrician Life and Career Experience Study (PLACE), which included 1,000 physician responses on income and 1,300 responses on household responsibilities. The income data (from 2016) showed that female pediatricians were paid only 76 percent of their male peers’ income. At the same time, based on the household responsibilities data (from 2015), female pediatricians reported that they had more time-consuming responsibilities in their own home life than male physicians.
Although the issue of physician pay certainly deserves continued focus, it is also important that your organization is dialed in on any pay gaps in non-physician roles. This month, the EEOC sued a Kansas City nursing home in the Western District of Missouri under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), alleging that the employer paid a female LPN $21 dollars an hour, but paid two male LPNs performing the same job $25 dollars per hour. EEOC v. Edgewood Manor OPCO LLC, Case No. 19-cv-00760.
The EPA generally prohibits employers from paying men and women differently for a job that requires the same skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. The employee does not need to prove any intentional sex discrimination to make out an EPA claim. Rather, if an employer cannot prove that there is a factor other than sex that explains the difference in pay between the female employee and her male counterpart(s), the employer will be liable for the difference (plus an equal amount in liquidated damages).
In this case, the EEOC is alleging that the difference was “willful,” meaning that if the suit is successful the plaintiff may be entitled to up to three years’ back pay as damages. In a press release the EEOC issued regarding the lawsuit, it stated that “[t]he fact that it’s still necessary to enforce the Equal Pay Act 56 years after its passage is astonishing. But the EEOC is dedicated to enforcing the law against both public and private employers who it finds have violated this key civil rights statute.” This case is in its early stages, but it is a good reminder (and a warning) that you should not wait for an EEOC Charge to address any pay gaps at your organization as appropriate, and at any and all levels. In addition, employers need to be concerned about state agencies and plaintiff’s attorneys who may bring claims under the many state laws that are more demanding than the EPA.