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New study shows pronounced gender pay gap in food service industry

A new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that women who work in the food service industry earn significantly less than men.  The pay disparities are most pronounced in some of the restaurant jobs that pay the most—first line supervisors, bartenders, and managers.  Male managers, for instance, earn a median hourly wage that is almost $3.00 per hour more than female managers.  (See Table 5 of the study).

Given the small amount that food service industry workers earn, compared to other occupations, these pay differences can make a huge difference in the lives of the women that they affect because food service industry workers often need every dollar they earn just to survive.

“This is what we identify as pay discrimination,” said Valerie Wilson, with the Economic Policy Institute.  “The work women are doing is being valued at less than the work men do in the same job.”

It is illegal for employers to pay women less than men because of their gender.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act offer federal statutory remedies for employees who have experienced pay discrimination based on their gender.  Maine has state laws, the Maine Human Rights Act and 26 M.R.S.A. § 628, which also provides remedies for pay discrimination based on gender.

One reason that gender discrimination in pay persists is because employees often do not know how much their co-workers earn.  Under Maine law and the federal National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal for an employer to forbid employees from asking what their co-workers earn; it is also illegal for an employer to prohibit employees from telling their co-workers how much they earn.  Recent Executive Orders pertaining to federal contractors provide further protections for employees who share information about their pay.  However, despite these laws, many employees are uncomfortable talking with each other about how much they earn and, as a result, pay disparities can remain hidden.  Furthermore, unless an employee can learn how much every employee who does the same job as her earns, small but significant pay disparities can remain hidden.  The Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill pending in Congress, would help to reveal some of these disparities by, among other things, requiring employers to report information about employee pay to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If you believe your employer is discriminating against you on the basis of your gender by paying you less than your co-workers, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.