Maryland Passes New “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Bill

Clifford Geiger
Clifford Geiger

Maryland law already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.  Likewise, Maryland already has an equal pay law.  On April 9, 2016, however, the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would supplement those existing laws.   This bill targets equal pay for equal work by specifically providing that an employer may not pay an employee a lower wage than an employee of another sex or gender identity if both employees work in the same establishment and perform comparable work.  Variations in wages would be permitted based on non-discriminatory seniority or merit systems, or for jobs that require different skills or responsibilities.  Wage variations also would be permitted for work is performed on different shifts or at different times of the day.  Additionally, wage variations may be based on bona fide factors other than sex, including job-related education, training, or experience.

This bill also limits an employer’s ability to restrict employee discussions about wages.  Under the bill, Maryland employers could not prohibit an employee from asking about, discussing, or disclosing his or her own wages or the wages of another employee, nor could  employers retaliate against employees who exercise those rights.  These transparency provisions are limited by an employer’s right to place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on wage-related discussions, provided the restrictions comply with other state and federal laws and whatever standards the state labor commissioner may develop.  These restrictions go beyond those in the National Labor Relations Act, since they apply to all employees (the NLRA applies only to non-supervisors).

Employers would be liable if they “knew or reasonably should have known” they violated the law.  Employees could seek relief for violations by bringing a private action for injunctive relief and actual damages, plus an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.  An employee entitled to relief could also receive reasonable attorneys’ fees and prejudgment interest.  In lieu of private action, an employee would have the option of filing a complaint with the state Labor Commissioner to pursue the claim.

The limitations period for legal action would be “3 years after the employee receives from the employer the wages paid on the termination of employment under 3-505(A) of this Title.”  It is far from clear what this means, or how it is intended to interact, if at all, with the limitations periods under Maryland’s Wage and Hour Laws or Human Relations Act.

The bill is under review by Governor Larry Hogan.

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