MA Equal Pay Act highlights 39th Annual Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference

Thursday, May 10, 2018
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The WAGE Project Inc. President Evelyn F. Murphy gives the keynote address at the 39th Annual Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference on May 4.

The legal landscape has evolved considerably over the 39-year history of the Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference, but perhaps never more so than in 2018, when the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) will take effect. Against this backdrop, labor and employment professionals across all areas of expertise gathered at Suffolk University Law School on May 4 for the 39th annual event, headlined by keynote speaker Evelyn F. Murphy, president of The WAGE Project Inc. 

Murphy said the concept of equal pay for equal or comparable work dates back at least 100 years to World War I, during which the National War Labor Board championed the wage rights of women who replaced male job holders serving overseas. The author and former lieutenant governor then provided a brief overview of Massachusetts' legislative efforts around pay equity, all leading up to the unanimous passage of a bipartisan bill in summer 2016. Although 56 interest groups had previously registered their support for the proposed legislation, an endorsement from the Boston Chamber of Commerce one day prior to the Senate’s vote represented the “biggest breakthrough in 20 odd years,” Murphy said. 

Under the MEPA, employees can openly discuss their salaries without fear of retribution, the screening of job applicants cannot involve questions regarding pay history, and employers demonstrating reasonable progress toward eliminating gender-based wage disparities are entitled to affirmative defenses. By including these latter two provisions, Murphy said, Massachusetts set a groundbreaking example that numerous other states have since followed. 

Murphy concluded her remarks by challenging the assembled lawyers to “think big and act big.” She continued, “If we can keep this reform going, we have the chance to transform the culture of the American workplace. But you have to act now, and keep this momentum going, and keep the leadership going.”

The conference also featured MEPA guidance from the Attorney General’s Office, labor and employment panels, and a presentation on “Making Your Case in the Court of Public Opinion.”  

Sponsored by the MBA’s Labor & Employment Law Section, the event was co-chaired by Jaimeson E. Porter, Esq., of Schwartz Hannum PC; and Craig D. Levey, Esq., of Bennett & Belfort PC.