April 12, 2016 was Equal Pay Day. In 2015, Equal Pay Day was on April 14th. In 2013, it was on April 9th. Why? The date moves not with the day of the week or the calendar, but based on what the gender pay gap is for the previous year. In 2015, a woman would have had to continue working until April 12, 2016 to make the same salary a man did in the year 2015.
In 2016, the biggest gender wage gap discrimination case on the world stage involves the US Women’s Soccer team. Five players have filed a complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The players claim they are paid less than the men’s soccer team despite generating more revenue. There’s a host of grievances in the complaint, including the condition of the fields women play on, their travel arrangements, and how their salaries and bonuses are calculated. These differences continue to persist, even though the Women’s team most recently set television viewing records when they won the World Cup (while the men were eliminated in the Round of 16).
The Women’s Soccer complaint has invigorated discussions of wage differences based on gender when it comes to other sports where male leagues tend to dominate as well. Tennis has been one sport under the microscope, since men and women play in the same tournaments to the same crowds. While the biggest tournaments (like the four Grand Slams) pay men and women the same amount, many of the tournaments on the circuit (where players earn their livelihood) have huge discrepancies when it comes to prize money amounts. The Western & Southern Open paid Roger Federer over $700,000 for his win but payed Serena Williams less than $500,000 for hers.
The gender pay gap even extends to highly-paid actors in Hollywood. Jennifer Lawrence famously wrote about finding out she made significantly less than her co-stars after the Sony email leaks. This is true— even though studies have shown that movies starring women make more money than those starring men. Based on estimated earnings, the top five earning actors in Hollywood in 2015 were all men.
The gender pay gap is a global problem. In 2015 the United States ranked 28th in the world when it came to the gender wage gap— with women making 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. Iceland came in first with 88 cents on the dollar.
Conversations about equal pay are becoming more common, but it’s still difficult to win a gender pay discrimination lawsuit. As long as employers can show any non-gender reason for paying a woman less, they are generally able to fight the suits. When these suits are successful, there is clear evidence that the woman is paid less for the same work and that seniority or merit doesn’t come into play.
There has also been change around pay discrimination legislation. California recently amended its Fair Pay Act to allow pay differentials to be considered across multiple offices or job descriptions, if the work is substantially similar. It also outlaws regulations that forbid discussions of salary in the workplace. Other states have passed more progressive wage fairness laws since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009.
Employers should stay up to date on wage fairness and discrimination laws in their state by consulting professionals at PCW with any questions.