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Equal Pay Act Claims in Tennessee

Posted on Oct 12 2017 11:16AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Equal Pay Act claims in Tennessee are essentially claims usually involve situations where a female employee is paid less than a male employee for the same job.  These claims can be brought in Tennessee under the Tennessee Equal Pay Act (found in T.C.A. § 50-2-201 et al) and under the Federal Equal Pay Act (found in 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)).  These statutes basically are very similar to each other.  These types of pay disparity claims can also be brought under Title VII for sex discrimination.

 

Initial Burden of the Plaintiff:

 

To establish a prima facie claim of unequal pay for equal work under the EPA, a plaintiff has the burden to prove that the employer “pays different wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” Vehar v. Cole Nat'l Group, Inc., 251 Fed.Appx. 993, 998 (6th Cir. 2007).  Essentially, a female employee meets this burden if she proves that she is paid less than a male employee performing the same job (does not need to be perfectly identical but does need to be substantially similar) at the employer.


Defenses Available to Employer:

 

After this initial burden is met by the employee, then the employer has some available defenses to try to combat a finding of liability under the EPA.  Specifically, once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of disparate pay, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove the wage differential is justified under one of four affirmative defenses: “(1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (4) any other factor other than sex.” Buntin v. Breathitt Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 134 F.3d 796, 799 (6th Cir.1998). 

 

It is important to note that the fourth factor for “other factor other than sex” “does not include literally any other factor, but a factor that, at a minimum, was adopted for a legitimate business reason.”  EEOC v. J.C. Penney Co., Inc., 843 F.2d 249, 253 (6th Cir. 1988). “Because these nongender-based explanations for the wage differential are affirmative defenses, the defendant bears the burden of proof.” Buntin 134 F.3d at 799.   In fact, “[t]he defendant bears the heavy burden of providing that a factor other than sex is the basis for a wage differential, in other words, it must be shown that the factor of sex provide absolutely no part of the basis for the pay disparity.” Vehar, 251 F.Appx. at 1000.  “Unless the factor of sex provides no part of the basis for the wage differential, the requirements for that defense are not met.” Leach v. Electric Research and Manufacturing Cooperative, Inc., 2016 WL 6892797 (W.D. Tenn. November 22, 2016).

 

Damages for EPA/TEPA violations:

 

Damages for an EPA/TEPA violation include the actual difference in earnings between the female and male employees and a doubling of that amount as liquidated damages.  Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) “Any employer who violates provisions of section 206 or section 207 of this title shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid…wages…as the case may be, and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).  “Liquidated damages of double the backpay award [under the EPA] are provided by statute.”  Hatton v. Hunt, 780 F.Supp. 1157, 1168 (W.D. Tenn. 1991).

 

Additionally, the EPA statute (under FLSA) provides that attorney fees and costs of litigation are also to be awarded to the employee. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).  Pre-judgement interest is also generally available for these violations as well as appropriate equitable remedies, if they can apply.

 

There is a 2-year statute of limitations found in the EPA unless the violation is found to be willful.  If it is a willful violation, the statute of limitations is 3 years.  The standard for a finding of “willfulness” under the Equal Pay Act is met if the employer “either knew or showed reckless disregard” for the matter of whether its conduct violated the law.  EEOC v. State of Delaware, 865 F.2d 1408, 1419 (3rd Cir. 1989).

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Damages, Employment Law, Statute of Limitations, Attorney Fees
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com

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