A bill to replace Massachusetts’ aging equal pay law is making progress in the state legislature and may be heading for final approval. Late last week, a Senate committee produced a revised version of the pending legislation and recommended that it be passed.
The existing law, known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), was enacted in 1945. It generally prohibits employers from paying women less than men for comparable work. Because court interpretations of what’s required to demonstrate violations of the law have made enforcement difficult — women’s pay continues to lag behind men’s pay in the Commonwealth — a revised MEPA was proposed and is broadly supported in both branches of the state legislature. It would, among other things:
- Make enforcement easier by eliminating the requirement that plaintiffs prove that the substantive content — that is, the specific job duties — are “comparable;”
- Extend the statute of limits on comparable work claims to three years;
- Invalidate certain defenses and the requirement of filing with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) as a prerequisite to suit; and
- Make employer rules against employees discussing their pay with each other illegal.
Employers that, within the 3 years that precede a claim, complete a pay practices self-evaluation and demonstrate reasonable progress in eliminating pay differentials based on gender may escape liability under the bill. Successful plaintiffs will be entitled to double damages and legal fees under the proposed new law, just as they currently are. Agreements to avoid equal pay will not be enforceable. The new law will, of course, be effective to protect both men and women against unequal pay for comparable work.