Framework Conditions in the United States of America

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Equal Pay Act

Already in 1963, the Equal Pay Act has come into force. Since then, the gap decreases, yet is still present at a comparatively high level in the US. The Equal Pay Act prohibits any discrimination in wages based on sex.

Next to prohibiting any form of discrimination, the Equal Pay Act allows for sanctioning those breaching the law. Fines of more than 10,000 $ can be set in case of proven discrimination.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Lilly Ledbetter has fought against pay discrimination and filed a case against her employer Goodyear. She has been paid unfairly for years, but she only got to know about the pay discrimination through an anonymous note. Her case went all the way up to the US Supreme Court, where it has been finally rejected.

To avoid such cases from happening again, the Civil Rights Act has been amended with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:

"to declare that an unlawful employment practice occurs when:

(1) a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted;

(2) an individual becomes subject to the decision or practice; or

(3) an individual is affected by application of the decision or practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid.

Allows liability to accrue, and allows an aggrieved person to obtain relief, including recovery of back pay, for up to two years preceding the filing of the charge, where the unlawful employment practices that have occurred during the charge filing period are similar or related to practices that occurred outside the time for filing a charge."[1]

Former US President Obama has signed the Fair Pay Act as one of his first Acts in his first term to set a signal against the persisting wage gap in the US.

Obama Administration

Former President Barack Obama established a taks force on pay equity already in 2012 to find policy responses in order to close the gender pay gap. During both presidential terms, pay equity has been high on his political agenda. He also promoted the Equal Pay Pledge, an initiative in which companies commit themselves to analyze and close their wage gaps. Among the first companies to sign were Amazon, Airbnb, BCG, Expedia, Gap Inc., Glassdoor, Salesforce or Spotify.

In addition, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has already revealed that Obamas's efforts on equal pay will continue in case she will be elected president of the US.

In October 2015, the state California passed a very progressive fair pay act. Employers now can "justify higher wages for men only if the pay is based on seniority, a merit system, quantity or quality of production, or any other "bona fide factor other than sex."" (The Big Story)

Litigation in the US

As class action is allowed in the judicial system of the United States, various cases on gender discrimination have been filed in the US. Even today, numerous cases are opened making equal pay a more actual topic than ever.

Two famous and recent cases are:

- Ellen Pao filed a law suit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. The case has risen awareness all over the country, as the case involves a high-ranking and well-known investment company in the Silicon Valley. Although Ellen Pao could not win the case, it has encouraged a far-reaching dicussion on gender equality and equal pay.

- Walmart has been in the news for cases on equal pay since years. Class action cases with 10,000s of cases have been filed against the company. The case was not only abour equal pay, but also involved missing promotions for women and a male-dominated working culture. However, the case in 2011 was decided in favour of Walmart leaving discrimination within the company in place.


  1. US Congress: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

Related Links

United States Department of Labour: It's Time for #EqualPayNow

Equal Pay Act of 1963 - original version

Equal Pay Act

Huffington Post (2015). Why Ellen Pao's Case Can Be Seen as a Win for Women

Huffington Post (2011). Equal Pay for Equal Work

AAUW: Equal Pay

AAUW: Soccer and Salaries: The U.S. Women’s National Team Fights for Equity