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EEOC, OPM put in writing their promise to rigorously enforce equal pay laws for federal employees

The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have issued a joint letter pledging to ensure “rigorous enforcement” of equal pay laws for federal employees. The agencies are sending the letter to all civilian federal employees.

Both agencies are members of the White House’s National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, which has charged them with the job of “providing a road map for federal agencies to increase compliance with federal compensation discrimination laws.”

The joint letter was released on August 16 by EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien at the Commission’s Examining Conflicts in Employment Law (EXCEL) conference in Baltimore. Berrien said: “We cannot achieve our national commitment to equal employment opportunity until women are included as equal partners in every workplace, including the federal government. The federal government should be a model employer in every regard –including equal pay.”

“Equal pay for equal work is the law, it’s right, and its time has come,” said OPM Director John Berry. “OPM and the EEOC are working together to ensure that federal equal pay laws are vigorously enforced in the federal workplace. Ensuring equal pay for equal work without regard to gender, or any other prohibited basis helps us recruit and retain the most talented workforce to serve the American people.”

Berry also observed that although the wage gap is smaller in the federal government than in other sectors, there is much work that remains to be done in order to ensure that the federal government is a model employer.

A 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the gender wage gap for federal employees declined from 28 cents on the dollar in 1987 to 11 cents in 2007. Of that 11-cent gap, seven cents could not be explained by differences in education, years of service, or other nondiscriminatory factors.

While still significantly less than the current 33-cent wage gap in the private sector, and far less than the overall gap of 41 cents in 1963, the year the Equal Pay Act took effect, “clearly much work remains to be done in order to close the wage gap,” the joint letter states. Representatives from both agencies are working with the GAO to identify further causes of the wage gap and ways to combat it.

The letter also points out that sex-based compensation discrimination is illegal under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which apply to federal sector as well as other public and private sector employers. In addition to gender, compensation discrimination is also prohibited on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability and genetic information or family medical history.

“We take our obligation to ensure that the federal government is a model employer very seriously, and are working to ensure that all federal employees have the opportunity to realize the promise of equal pay for equal work,” the letter concluded.

Further information about the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force and its recommendations is available on the White House website. In its role on the Task Force, the EEOC is also focusing on private sector enforcement.