Carol Newnam, AAUW South Atlantic Regional Director, presented information from AAUW’s study on pay equity called, “Gains in Learning – Gaps in Earnings”.  Nationally, 27% of women have a four-year degree or better.  They earn just 76% of the median annual earnings of men.

In North Carolina, 25% of women have a four-year degree (29th in the nation) and they earn $47,000, or  78% as much as men.  That is 16th in the nation. Virginia is interesting in that 32% of women have a 4-year degree and the median salary is $52K (8th in the nation). However, that is only 70% of what men in Virginia make which ranks 48th in the nation. For the data on all the states, see the online report: Women’s Educational Gains and the Gender Earnings Gap (2008) [ > Research > Gains in Learning, Gaps in Earning]

She then introduced Professor Catherine Dunham to speak to legal avenues for challenging unequal pay.

“What’s a Woman to Do: Tools for Pay Equity” was the title of Professor Catherine Dunham’s presentation. There are only 2 legal avenues available to challenge unequal pay – claims under Title VII and claims under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (the EPA).

Claims under the EPA. The Equal Pay Act requires “equal pay for equal work” within the same “establishment” The injured worker must show she performed equal work that was “substantially similar” and was paid less than another of the opposite sex. All the employer must do to defend against the claim is show that the pay was made because of a seniority system, a merit system quantity or quality of production or if the difference was based on any factor other than sex, such a s prior salary. This unfortunately perpetuates the gender gap. This situation is also affected by lack of women on the appellate court.

Claims under Title VII must show “discriminatory intent” Regrettably, the employee must file a claim with the EEOC within 180 days of the violation. Title VII does not recognize the doctrine of continuing violations.

So, in answer to the question, “What’s a Woman to do?” Catherine Dunham has some smart suggestions:

  • Understand the legal avenues and the Statues of Limitations which apply.
  • Act promptly if pay discrimination is discovered.
  • Ask for salary information before you begin work. “Ask to see the chart of salaries for the job. If they refuse, that tells you something!”
  • Encourage transparency in the workplace culture
  • Understand the importance of women on the courts.
  • Consider gender balance when you vote.

And lastly,

  • Remember those behind you.

For additional ways to work for Pay Equity, see the AAUW Pay Equity Resource Kit. Go to to request a link to download the full PDF version of the kit. [ > Advocacy > Public Policy – link for the kit is on the right.]