A federal court has ruled that employers cannot use past earnings to justify paying women less than men. The decision was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which does not have jurisdiction over Louisiana.

The case before the court involved a female math consultant in California who learned she was paid significantly less than all the male math consultants working for the county, including ones with less education and experience. This occurred because she was the only female math consultant in the county, and the county based her pay on her past earnings, which were less than the earnings of her male colleagues.

The court found that employers who choose to pay women based on their past salary are violating the Equal Pay Act of 1963, writing that the purpose of the law was to stop employers from paying women less than men solely based on their sex. It further concluded that employers who continue to base a woman’s salary on her past earnings are contravening the EPA because women have historically earned less than men, meaning they are effectively trapping female employees in a cycle of low pay.

Female employees who believe they are being paid less than male employees simply because of their sex might find relief by contacting an employment attorney for assistance. The attorney could review the details of the case to determine if the employer’s actions are a violation of state and federal laws. If they are, legal counsel might recommend filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the equivalent state agency. This might lead to a settlement that covers back pay, front pay, lost benefits, emotional distress and other damages.