CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today proclaimed April 25 as Illinois Equal Pay Day to highlight the state’s law that requires pay equity in the workplace. Gov. Blagojevich issued the proclamation in conjunction with National Equal Pay Day to heighten awareness of gender-based pay discrimination in Illinois, as First Lady Patti Blagojevich met with working women from around the state to discuss enforcement successes, outreach efforts and challenges to ensure that women are paid the same wages as men for the same work.
“Women doing the same work as men should be paid the same wages. That’s the law in Illinois. By signing the Equal Pay Act of 2003, we made a big step toward fairness for working women. Proclaiming April 25 as Equal Pay Day in Illinois is a reminder to all employers of the significance of this law and the state’s continued efforts towards closing the wage gap,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
The Governor signed the Illinois Equal Pay Act in 2003 to eliminate the wage differential between men and women. The Act expanded the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 by covering more workers, providing better enforcement mechanisms and improving public awareness. The Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) enforces the Act, which became effective on January 1, 2004, and extended protections from gender-based discrimination in pay to an additional 330,000 workers.
Only a few states have enacted their own Equal Pay laws and while many states may have equal pay provisions built into already existing laws, the number of equal pay complaints in other states is still in the single digits. Since January of 2004, the Department has responded to approximately 2,250 calls on the 1-866-EPA-IDOL toll-free hotline, handled nearly 170 cases, prompted settlements between employees and employers as a result of strict enforcement, and recovered close to $7,300 in back wages under the Act.
“We’ve made great progress in ensuring employers work with the state to make sure their women employees are paid fairly. The fact that many women in the state are still making about 70 cents for every dollar a man earns is a stark reminder that we have more to do. We need to make sure every worker and every business is fully aware of their rights and responsibilities,” said Mrs. Blagojevich.
Illinois’ Equal Pay Act prohibits employers with four or more employees from paying unequal wages to men and women doing the same or substantially similar work, requiring equal skill, effort, responsibility and under similar working conditions. There are exceptions: such as if the wage difference is based upon a seniority system, merit system, a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production or factors other than gender. The law protects both men and women from pay disparity and any individual who files an Equal Pay complaint is protected under the Act from harassment or retaliation.
To better enforce the state’s Equal Pay Act, IDOL established the Equal Opportunity Workforce Division within the agency. The Division, which administers and enforces the Act and conducts outreach and education efforts statewide, found that the number of complaints filed with the Department is relatively high when compared to other states. This is mainly due to the aggressive Equal Pay Act awareness campaign launched by the Governor and IDOL two years ago on April 25, 2004. Since the law was signed, the Department has established a toll-free hotline: 1-866-EPA-IDOL, distributed an estimated 40,000 “Equal Pay is the Law” posters to the largest employers in the state as a required posting, displayed 3,000 “Equal Pay is the Law” posters on buses and trains in the Chicago area, with cooperation of the Chicago Transit Authority, and aired and published public service announcements throughout the state of Illinois.
The Department also provided nearly 30 in-depth training to more than 750 individuals representing public and private employers, civic and community organizations, attorneys, human resource professionals, payroll associations and employee organizations. In addition, brief presentations on the Equal Pay Act were included in 50 other Department presentations that were attended by more than 1,700 individuals throughout the state. EPA literature and posters were distributed at all of these presentations.
As a result of IDOL’s aggressive investigations, the Department:
- Collected $1,400 in back wages for a female supervisor at a Southern Illinois hospital. This followed a determination made by an IDOL Administrative Law Judge who agreed with the finding made by an IDOL Compliance Officer during an earlier investigation.
- Collected $2,450 in back wages for a female computer developer in the western suburbs after an IDOL Compliance Officer determined an Equal Pay Act violation. To comply with the law, the employer increased her salary by $6,000 per year so that her wages would be equal to that of another male employee performing the same work.
- Collected $1,921 in back wages for a female national sales manager employed in Cook County after an investigation by the IDOL Equal Pay Specialist revealed an Equal Pay Act violation. The issue was that a merit increase was paid to her at less than that which was paid to her counterpart for calendar year 2004.
- Collected $985 in back wages after the Department's investigation revealed an Equal Pay Act violation concerning a female general laborer for a metal finishing company in Adams County. The IDOL Equal Pay Specialist determined that male general laborers performing the same work were paid at higher rates of pay.
- Collected $553 in back wages for a female deli worker at a grocery store in Central Illinois where a male co-worker performing the same work as the female complainant was paid 35¢ more per hour.
- Conducted an investigation of an Equal Pay complaint involving a female cook at a downstate country club and her employer. As a result of IDOL's investigation, the employee and employer reached a settlement in which the employee received an hourly increase in wages and her yearly salary was raised by thousands of dollars.
- Uncovered violations of the Equal Pay Act in a case involving a female complainant formerly employed as a store clerk in Cook County in which the employer refused to pay back wages owed to the former employee. The Attorney General’s office is prosecuting this case and is seeking nearly $15,000 in penalties and back wages. The case is now pending in circuit court.
- Issued a violation determination on an Equal Pay complaint involving retaliation against a female customer service manager who was terminated from her employment in McHenry County. The Department is seeking $19,528 in wages to the complainant. The determination was appealed and is pending a decision from an IDOL Administrative Law Judge.
“The Department has made tremendous strides in not only enforcing Illinois’ Equal Pay Act, but in its outreach efforts as well, underlining Governor Blagojevich’s effort to end pay disparity between men and women. Statewide training throughout the year has helped build a better understanding between employees and employers and has helped towards creating fairness in the workplace,” said Illinois Department of Labor Director Art Ludwig.
The Equal Pay Act requires that employers post a notice in their workplace summarizing worker’s rights under the Act and provides stiff penalties for those who violate the law. If the employer is found guilty of pay discrimination, they are required to make up the wage difference to the employee, and may be subject to civil fines of up to $2,500 per violation plus legal costs. Complaints may be filed directly at the Illinois Department of Labor or by calling a toll-free hotline 1-866-EPA-IDOL.