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Equal Pay Day is a symbolic day of awareness of the gender pay gap that continues to wrongfully persist. This day is recognized in many countries throughout the world. Not only does it bring awareness to the severity and scale of gender discrimination, but it challenges us as a society to do better for gender equity.

This year, Equal Pay Day in the United States falls on March 24, 2021, demonstrating that women on average must work nearly 3 additional months to match the annual earnings of men on average for the prior year. When we disaggregate the data, including by race, ethnicity, disability, immigration status, gender identity, and sexuality, the pay gap widens even further.

Under the California Equal Pay Act, paying employees unequally based on their gender, race, and/or ethnicity for substantially similar (not “equal”) work is illegal. A lack of intent does not negate the discriminatory impact of unequal pay. As we move toward gender equity, we must advocate for equal pay laws to reach further. The fight for equal pay must be intersectional.

Intersectionality & Unequal Pay in the United States 

For the fight for equal pay to be meaningful, policymakers and employers must consider how various forms of inequity and systemic oppression operate together rather than in silos. By approaching unequal pay with an intersectional lens, we can better understand how multiple systems of oppression discriminate against womxn and work towards meaningful change. Intersectionality is an analytical framework coined by Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: 

“It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

Using an intersectional lens is crucial to ending wage oppression. Recent unequal pay data accounts for pay disparities across gender and race. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every $1.00 earned by men of all races, women of all races earn $0.82. When we break down pay by gender and race, the inequities are stark: 

Image Source: Statista.com

To highlight these inequities across race and gender, we recognize AAPI Women’s Equal Pay Day (March 9, 2021), Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (August 3, 2021), Native Women’s Equal Pay Day (September 8, 2021), and Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day (October 21, 2021). Like our national Equal Pay Day, these respective dates are calculated to demonstrate how far into the year these women must work to earn what men on average earned that previous year. 

Though the data sheds necessary light surrounding unequal pay, the pay disparities experienced by ethnicity is too often left out of the conversation. When we fail to disaggregate the data, we cannot adequately see and address how some ethnic groups need more support. One example is the AAPI community. According to the chart below from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), some AAPI ethnic subgroups earned as low as 52 cents per dollar compared to every dollar made by non-Hispanic white men. 

Unequal pay data revealing inequities across various systems of oppression is still not widely available nor always current. For example, one study from over ten years ago shows that transgender women’s average earnings fall by nearly one-third after they transition. Regularly collected data equips us to effectively remedy unequal pay. In order to truly grasp the lived realities of all womxn, we must advocate for an intersectional approach to pay inequality.

California Equal Pay Act

Employees can fight back against unequal pay. Under the California Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), it is illegal to pay employees unequally based on their sex, ethnicity, and/or race. Rather than “equal pay for equal work,” California law requires equal pay for “substantially similar work.” “Substantially similar” can be viewed as work requiring similar skill, effort, and responsibility performed under similar working conditions. One example of this can be a female employee and a male employee who have different job titles but share similar job duties.

Some protections under the California Equal Pay Act include: 

  • Employers cannot prohibit employees from disclosing, discussing, or inquiring about other’s wages;
  • Employers cannot rely on an employees’ prior salary to justify the unequal pay; and
  • Employers cannot retaliate against workers who assist employees with bringing claims under the EPA. 

California Pay Equity Reporting

Under a newly-enacted California law, many private employers are required to file annual Employer Information Reports with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH can then investigate employers whose data suggest pay inequality in their workforces based on race, sex, and/or ethnicity. By mandating these annual reports, California hopes to more effectively enforce equal pay and anti-discrimination laws to achieve widespread equity. The first reports under this law are due March 31, 2021. 

Are you experiencing unequal pay at your job?

If you believe you are experiencing unequal pay at your job, please give us a call at (415) 453-4740 to complete an initial intake with our firm.  

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