In this summer’s session, the Louisiana legislature enacted the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act creating a new cause of action for women who believe they are being paid less than male coworkers because of their gender. While this act only applies to state employees, it could signal a trend of what’s to come for the private sector. In any event, public employers should be aware of this new claim which can now be asserted against them.
Wage Discrimination Based on Gender Prohibited in the Public Sector
The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex by paying one employee a lesser rate than that paid within the same agency to another employee of a different sex for the same or substantially similar work on jobs in which the employee’s performance requires equal skill, effort, education, and responsibility and that are performed under similar working conditions. The new law arises out of a public policy which establishes that a woman who performs public service for the state is entitled to be paid the same compensation as a man who performs the same kind, grade and quality of service, and a distinction in compensation may not be made because of sex.
The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act further makes it unlawful for employers to interfere with, restrain, or deny any employee’s right to exercise the rights created by the Act. Employers are expressly prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee who asserts a claim.
The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act does not apply to different wage rates based on a seniority system, a merit system, or a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production. The Act also does not prohibit different wages based on other bona fide non-discriminatory factors, including education, training, or experience as long as the employer can demonstrate that such factor is related to the job position in question and that there is no alternative employment practice that would serve the same legitimate business purpose without producing a wage differential.
Procedure for Filing Claims Under the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act
Under the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, employees must give written notice to employers prior to filing a claim. An employer who receives such written notice has sixty (60) days to investigate the matter and remedy any violations. If the employer remedies the wage discrepancy within the sixty (60) day timeframe, the employee cannot bring suit. If the employer fails to resolve the dispute, the employee may then file a complaint with the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights requesting an investigation. If the Commission fails to render a decision as to the dispute, issues a finding of no discrimination, or finds evidence of discriminatory, retaliatory, or other adverse employment action but is unable to resolve the dispute, the employee may then file suit in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court.
While employees who prevail under this new cause of action are entitled to unpaid wages due back thirty-six months from the time of providing written notice, as well as court costs and attorney’s fees, employees who are found by a court to have brought frivolous claims will be liable for damages, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs as a result of the claim.
In addition to prohibiting wage discrimination, the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act also imposes a records requirement on all public employers subject to the Act. Such employers must create and preserve records reflecting the name, address, and position of each employee and all wages paid to each employee. Further, employers must preserve these records for three years from the employee’s last date of employment.
Public employers should be sure to consult with their legal counsel to ensure that they are in compliance with the new requirements created by the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.
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Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.