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Fisher & Phillips, an Atlanta-based labor and employment firm that rebranded itself earlier this year, announced Monday the formation of a pay equity group that seeks to assist clients in what some experts predict could be an active area of litigation in 2017.
“With litigation related to both the federal Equal Pay Act and the California Fair Pay Act expected to increase in the coming year, it will be important for employers to understand the changes related to the scope and application of these laws,” said a statement by Fisher & Phillips employment partner Lonnie Giamela. “The pay equity practice group was formed to help our clients understand and comply with these adjustments, including the detailed and demanding reporting requirements.”
Pay equity has been one of the cornerstones President Barack Obama’s administration since the signing of his first piece of legislation in 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. States like California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York have also enacted their own sweeping pay equity legislation in the past few years. And, this past September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced it will require employers under its jurisdiction to disclose aggregate pay data in their EEO-1 reports for the first time ever starting in 2018.
The formation of Fisher & Phillips’ pay equity practice comes on the heels of a national and international uptick in pay equity claims, said Cheryl Behymer, a Fisher & Phillips partner in Columbia, South Carolina, and co-chair of the firm’s pay equity group with fellow partners Cheryl Pinarchick in Boston and Kathleen McLeod Caminiti in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and New York, where Fisher & Phillips opened an office in July.
Fisher & Phillips’ pay equity practice plans on conducting audits of clients’ pay practices, as well as reviews of their compensation policies in an attempt to identify any differences in pay across gender. Behymer said this will help clients comply with reporting guidelines and place them in a good defensible position should they have to defend against any pay equity claims that arise. (Like many national labor and employment firms, Fisher & Phillips specializes in advising employers.)
“One of the things we’re looking at is trying to help our clients get in a good proactive position,” said Behymer, adding that the practice group would be working with clients on things like developing accurate job descriptions in anticipation of pay equity claims.
While the last eight years have ushered in a series of sweeping changes, Behymer still sees pay equity as a budding area of litigation, even under a future Donald Trump administration. (Ivanka Trump, one of the president-elect’s daughters, has spoken publicly on the gender wage gap.)
“I think we’re going to continue to see a trend in a focus on pay equity, whether some of the current new changes are going to remain in place. I’m not as confident that they’ll stay exactly as they’re currently proposed,” Behymer said. “There’s been such a focus on pay disparity, particularly in the gender context, over the last few years. So it might be difficult for the new administration to completely step away from the topic.”
The pay equity practice is the latest new initiative at Fisher & Phillips, which announced in June the formation of Foundations Human Resources Consulting, a Lexington, Kentucky-based offshoot led by former executives that worked for a subsidiary of auto giant Toyota Motor Corp.