Employment and labor rights have been greatly entrenched in modern societies. The clamor for the respect and protection of the rights of employees have dominated the legal discourse on employment. The concept of equal pay is one of the most prominent issues dominating the debate, which has attracted attention from human rights activists and proponents of equality. Equal pay denotes the concept of labor rights upon which individuals performing the same work within a similar environment or workplace should be given equivalent remuneration. In essence, the concept of equal pay is best captured in the view that equal work should be rewarded equally, regardless of the person performing the work.[1] As a result, the notion of equal pay can be invoked in instances of sexual discrimination in the workplace, which may give rise to a gender pay gap. Equal pay does not constrain itself to the idea of salary and wages. Instead, it espouses a broad range of issues and all other benefits and rewards synonymous with a work environment, such as basic pay, non-salary payments, bonuses, as well as allowances among others. The concept of equal pay has been addressed differently by different nation states, with varying legal foundations to support the concept.

Legal Background

In the United States, the issue of equal pay has been greatly entrenched in the country’s legal frameworks. In essence, the country is one of the nations with elaborate laws that not only promote equal pay but also make it illegal not to adhere to the equal pay requirements. Both federal and state statutes have played a critical role in entrenching the practice of equal pay. The first piece of legislation enacted by the federal government to introduce equal pay was the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which marked a major milestone in the country’s labor history. However, the act was enacted as a result of the increased pressure from some legislators and activists in the civil rights movement. The Equal Pay Act made it illegal for any employer to offer men and women different wage rates for equal work. As such, the concept of equal work was contextualized as the work performed under similar working conditions, which requires the same skill, effort, as well as responsibility. Therefore, working at the same conditions but performing different jobs may justify the differentiated payment. Similarly, if the work requires the same skills, knowledge, and expertise but is performed in different environments, differentiated pay may be justifiable.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act also alludes to the issue of equal pay prominently.[2] Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an individual to discriminate based on the grounds of race, religion, color, as well as sex. The 1964 Civil Rights Act addresses the issue of equal pay from a broader perspective compared to the Equal Pay Act. The Equal pay act only looks into the issue of equal pay from the perspective of sex. The 1964 Civil Rights Act assumes a more comprehensive approach, which addresses sex, racial, and religious discrimination by extending from wages to compensation, terms, conditions, as well as the privileges, which are enjoyed within the employment relationship. A critical interrogation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act reveals that it is illegal to treat employees differently for equal work under the same working environment. By extension, an employer cannot violate the right of women to equal pay for equal work, deny transfers, promotions, salary increment, or advance any other discriminatory practice.[3] Job evaluations cannot be manipulated with the aim of relegating the pay of an individual or even intentionally segregating men and women and assigning them jobs in relation to their gender unless statutorily sanctioned.

In 2009, President Obama accented into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave women the powers to sue their employers for unfair pay within a period of 180 days after the notice of the unequal pay. The move empowered people to assert their rights in their quest for equal pay. In January 2016, another bold move was made by President Obama through the issuance of an executive order requiring organizations with more than 100 employees to disclose the respective pays made to such employees.[4] The disclosure was to entail an analysis of the pay in relation to race, gender, and ethnic identity of its employees. The measure played a leading role in entrenching the culture of equal pay, equal work through increased levels of transparency in the workplace. The legal regime makes it clear that equal pay is a measure aimed at addressing discrimination in the manner in which individuals are compensated in the workplace. In this case, payment in the form of salaries, wages, non-salary payments, as well as bonuses among other forms of rewards should not be based on age, sex, race, and gender for equal work under same working environment.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) forms a strong institutional foundation upon which the United States addresses the issue of equal pay. The federal agency administers and enforces civil rights and asserts the rights of employees against practices amounting to workplace discrimination. Ideally, the EEOC investigates complaints on discrimination associated with the race, nationality, religion, sex, age, disability, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.[5] The claims range from discrimination in recruitment processes to pay discrepancies. The commission also looks into issues such as retaliation for reporting a discriminative practice such as unequal pay by the employer.

Gender Pay Gap in the United States

Research and labor reports indicate the existence of a substantial gender pay gap in the United States. This gap refers to the ratio of female-to-male earnings at a given period of time. Whilst unequal pay is evident across different viewpoints, it is more prominent across the gender divide. Women are lesser compensated or are discriminated in relation to pay in the workplace compared to their male counterparts. The difference in pay is associated with a series of factors, among them historical issues and patriarchal nature of the traditional society that placed men above women.[6] The consideration of women as weaker and less endowed in terms of capabilities has entrenched the culture of unequal pay, even in instances where they accomplish the same tasks accomplished by men in similar environments. The average annual salary earnings of a typical woman represent 78% – 82% of the earnings of a typical man.[7] The statistics make it apparent that inequality in pay premised on gender is prevalent across the United States.

However, the difference is not solely attributed to pure discrimination or simple pay inequalities, as various factors contribute to the phenomenon. For instance, the difference does not put into account various adjustments associated with occupation, working hours, as well as parental leave, which may render women out of employment in some instances without pay, especially those working in the informal sector. Putting into consideration such factors and variation lower the rate or difference in pay to5–6.6%[8]. As such, women earn approximately 94 cents for every dollar a male counterpart earns. The difference is attributable to a series of factors, which are unexplained or unjustifiable in nature, such as non-wage benefits, gender discrimination, as well as the skills to negotiate for better remuneration terms. Indirect discrimination, which has been outlawed in the existing legal framework is considered as one of the key factors contributing to the gender pay gap in the US. However, the gender pay gap is also associated with the preference of certain jobs by women over others, which have dominantly been left for men. As a result, equal pay is not solely an issue of discrimination that causes a pay gap, but rather a complex issue that stems from a series of issues.


Equal pay is a concept in employment and labor rights which has been greatly entrenched in modern societies. It espouses the idea of compensating and rewarding individuals equally for the same work done in a similar workplace or working environment. However, the employees claiming equal pay must have similar skills and knowledge required for the accomplishment of the given work. The U.S. has a concrete legal and institutional framework in support of the concept of equal pay among employees. Despite the sound legal background outlawing pay discrimination based on age sex, religion, and other factors, attainment of equal pay has remained a major challenge as the gender pay gap remains apparent in the workforce. Women are the most affected, earning less on average compared to men.



  1. Civil Rights Act, 1964
  2. Equal Pay Act, 1963


  • Meehan, Elizabeth, and Peggy Kahn. Equal Value/Comparable Worth in the UK and the USA. Springer, 2016.


  • Bose, Arup, Debashis Pal, and David EM Sappington. “Equal pay for unequal work: Limiting sabotage in teams.” Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 19, no. 1 (2010): 25-53.\
  • Corgnet, Brice, Ludivine Martin, Peguy Ndodjang, and Angela Sutan. “On the merit of equal pay: Performance manipulation and incentive setting.” European Economic Review 113 (2019): 23-45.
  • Rubery, Jill, and Damian Grimshaw. “The 40-year pursuit of equal pay: a case of constantly moving goalposts.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 39, no. 2 (2014): 319-343.

Online Sources

  • Lam, Bourree. “Obama’s New Equal-Pay Rules”. The Atlantic, (2016). Retrieved from, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/01/eeoc-pay-discrimination-obama/433926/
  • O’Brien, Sara Ashley. “78 cents on the dollar: The facts about the gender wage gap”. CNN Money, (2015). Retrieved from, https://money.cnn.com/2015/04/13/news/economy/equal-pay-day-2015/

[1] Arup, Bose, Debashis Pal, and David EM Sappington. “Equal pay for unequal work: Limiting sabotage in teams.” Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 19, no. 1 (2010): 29.

[2] Title VII

[3] Brice, Corgnet, Ludivine Martin, Peguy Ndodjang, and Angela Sutan. “On the merit of equal pay: Performance manipulation and incentive setting.” European Economic Review 113 (2019): 25.

[4] Lam, Bourree. “Obama’s New Equal-Pay Rules”. The Atlantic, (2016). Retrieved from, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/01/eeoc-pay-discrimination-obama/433926/

[5] Elizabeth, Meehan, and Kahn Peggy. Equal Value/Comparable Worth in the UK and the USA. Springer, 2016. 67

[6] Rubery, Jill, and Damian Grimshaw. “The 40-year pursuit of equal pay: a case of constantly moving goalposts.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 39, no. 2 (2014): 334.

[7] O’Brien, Sara Ashley. “78 cents on the dollar: The facts about the gender wage gap”. CNN Money, (2015). Retrieved from, https://money.cnn.com/2015/04/13/news/economy/equal-pay-day-2015/

[8] Ibid


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