Actress Robin Wright, who plays the formidable Claire Underwood on House of Cards, is the latest in the entertainment world to speak out on equal pay. According to a recent interview, Wright demanded equal pay after statistics showed that her character was just as popular (if not more so) than that of her male costar, Kevin Spacey. In negotiating a pay raise to make her earnings equal to Spacey’s (who reportedly earns half a million per episode), Wright says she threatened “to go public.” Channeling her inner Claire, Wright came out on top.
Wright has joined a growing number of women in the sports and entertainment world who have spoken out on pay inequality. We recently did a post on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s demands for pay equal to their male counterparts. In addition, Patricia Arquette famously spoke about pay inequality at the Oscars in 2015. Jennifer Lawrence later spoke out about earning considerably less than her male costars in American Hustle because of the gender pay gap in Hollywood. Meryl Street sent letters to each member of Congress, accompanied by a copy of the book Equal Means Equal by Jessica Neuwirth, asking them to revive the long dormant Equal Rights Amendment.
To provide some legal background, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) is the federal law that prohibits discriminatory pay practices based on sex. More specifically, the EPA requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal (though not necessarily identical) work. An individual alleging a violation of the EPA may go directly to court and isn’t required to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge beforehand. The time limit for filing an EPA charge with the EEOC and initiating a lawsuit are the same: within two years of the alleged unlawful compensation practice or, in the case of a willful violation, within three years. The filing of an EEOC charge under the EPA doesn’t extend the time limit for initiating a lawsuit.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits discrimination based on sex with regard to pay and benefits. In addition, states across the U.S. have passed or are considering their own versions of the Equal Pay Act making it unlawful for employers to discriminate in the payment of wages based on sex and other protected statuses. Many have taken aim at eliminating pay secrecy by making it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their pay, which is already a big no-no under such laws as the National Labor Relations Act.
Wright may have summoned her inner Claire, but we can all be thankful that she didn’t resort to some of the Underwoods’ darker methods for resolving issues. If such wage negotiations were an episode of House of Cards, Claire (who has often been compared to Lady Macbeth) is not above ruthless political maneuvering and leaving a few bodies in her wake. In the meantime, we can all look forward to seeing what the Underwoods are up to in Season 5 of this Netflix hit.