The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was an amendment to the United States’ Fair Labor Standards Act, which is the law that governs hiring, pay, and working conditions for the country’s employees. This act made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. After the U.S. Congress passed the bill, President John F. Kennedy signed it into law on 10 June 1963. It was effective 11 June 1964 and became the first U.S. law addressing discrimination based on gender.
Until the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, it was common in the United States for women to be paid significantly less than men for doing the same job. In the 1950s, U.S. women made as little as 59 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The law covers not only wages, but also overtime, benefits,and other forms of compensation. The provisions of the act cover private and government employees.
Throughout the 1950s, several bills seeking equal pay for women were introduced in the U.S. Congress. On 14 February 1963, Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz submitted a draft bill. With the draft bill, Wirtz sent a letter recommending that Congress pass legislation that ensured equal pay based on gender.
Also helping to ensure the act would succeed was the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Appointed by Kennedy in 1961, the formation of the commission was a response to efforts to try to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and was led by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The commission issued its report on the status of women in 1963 and endorsed the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 further established gender equality in the workplace. This law made it illegal to hire or fire an employee based on gender. The protections of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 were not extended to professional women until 1972, with professional and administrative positions being excluded in the original legislation.
A case brought under the act must establish two facts. The employee must show that men and women are compensated differently based on gender. The employee must also show that the work and working conditions are the same.
The act was a catalyst for similar legislation in other parts of the world. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was subsequently passed by the British Parliament. France and New Zealand passed similar legislation in 1972, as did Ireland in 1974.