You’ve heard of it, but what does it mean? According to the Equal Pay Act (EPA), employers cannot discriminate by paying different salaries to employees of the opposite sex for equal work. When two employees of different sexes are performing with equal skill, effort and responsibility, the two employees are presumed to be working under similar working conditions. Then, the two employees should be paid the same. “Equal” does not mean that two compared jobs must be identical; the two jobs can be substantially equal, closely related or very much alike. Working conditions do not need be equal, but must be similar.

There are a few exceptions. This rule does not apply when there is a legitimate seniority system. For example, the steps in the general schedule grade system would be a form of a seniority system. Other exceptions are where there is a merit system, an incentive or piecework system where earnings are based on productivity, or where there is a “legitimate business reason”.

Sometimes, it is easier to prove an EPA case in the federal government than in the private sector. This is because each employee has a position description, critical job elements and a performance plan specifying the skill, effort and responsibility required for the job. Where a man and a woman are performing the same job, but one is a higher grade than the other, there might be an EPA violation. Unlike other discrimination statutes, under the EPA the federal government can be charged with liquidated damages, possibly doubling any back-pay recovery. Also, under the law, an EPA claim involves sex discrimination prohibited under the Civil Rights Act, which might also entitle you to compensatory damages. If you think you have an equal pay claim, you can pursue it by filing a discrimination complaint with your local EEO office.

Correction to 1/23/02 Federal Legal Corner on Discontinued Service Retirement: In the January 23, 2002, Federal Legal Corner column on discontinued service retirement, it was erroneously stated that “the discontinued service annuity begins on the first day of the month after the occurrence of the event on which payment of the annuity is based.” An alert reader pointed out that the annuity of an employee who is involuntarily separated under CSRS or FERS begins on the earlier of the day after separation or the day after pay ceases and the employee meets the age and service requirements for an annuity.

Clarification of 2/6/02 Federal Legal Corner on 10/10 Rule for Military Retirement Benefits In Marital Separation: The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act recognizes the right of state courts to distribute military retired pay to a spouse or former spouse. For the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to be obligated, pursuant to a court order, to make direct payment of a portion of the military member’s retirement benefit to the former spouse, the court order must apply to a member and former spouse who were married to each other for at least 10 years, during which the member performed at least 10 years of creditable military service for retirement purposes. When the marriage lasted less than 10 years or where concurrent military service was less than 10 years, division of the benefit may still be awarded by the court, but the former member, not DFAS, would make the payments to the former spouse. “Unfortunately,” said Sandra Mazliah of Passman & Kaplan, “our article was inadvertently misleading because it may have led some readers to conclude that a state court could not take into consideration the amount of the military pension if the parties were married less than 10 years.”

** This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., a law firm dedicated to the representation of federal employees worldwide. For more information on Passman & Kaplan, P.C., go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com. **