Different Standards Apply to Equal Pay Act and Title VII Pay Discrimination Claims


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a plaintiff does not need to establish a violation of the Equal Pay Act in order to maintain a pay discrimination claim under Title VII.

As the Second Circuit noted in Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc., although both laws prohibit pay differentials based on sex, they are subject to different standards. Under the EPA, a plaintiff is entitled to equal work for equal pay, which requires a showing that the plaintiff performed equal work to an employee of the opposite sex but received unequal pay. Under Title VII, however, the plaintiff must show that they were subject to discrimination in pay because of sex – which does not necessarily require a showing that there were comparators of the opposite sex in substantially equal positions.

Although the Second Circuit noted that an employer could discriminate against a female employee by paying her less than male peers performing equal work, that is not the only way to effect discrimination under Title VII. The Second Circuit offered the example of a female employee hired for a unique position who is paid less than she would have been paid if she were male. As the Second Circuit stated, “a claim for sex-based wage discrimination can be brought under Title VII even though no member of the opposite sex hold an equal but higher paying job, provided that the challenged wage rate is not based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production or any other factor other than sex.” (Internal quotations omitted).

In the current case, the female plaintiff showed that she was paid below market rate for her position while male executive peers were paid above market rate. The Second Circuit found that “these statistical differences permit an inference of discrimination.” Moreover, the plaintiff offered evidence that her supervisor, who was the CFO, made pervasive disparaging remarks about his ex-wife and females, which also suggested a discriminatory motive. Taken together, these circumstances were enough to support a claim for pay discrimination under Title VII.