U.S. House of Representatives Passes Historic Pay Equity Bill

From www.now.org, 8/11/08:

Victory! House Passes Historic Pay Equity Bill

August 1, 2008

By Jan Erickson, Director of Programs, NOW Foundation

The most important piece of pay equity legislation to be considered in decades, the Paycheck Fairness Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday evening. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats to pass the historic measure with a final vote of 247 to 178.

NOW President Kim Gandy hailed the passage, pointing out that the bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, could help us make real progress toward reducing the 23 percent differential in pay between women and men.

Gandy said, "Sex-based pay discrimination means much more than 23 cents on the dollar — it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars over a woman’s lifetime that are lost to her and her family. These lost wages can mean the family is unable to afford college tuition or health insurance, and the lowered pensions and social security payments associated with lower income can lead to poverty for elderly women who were not able to save and invest for retirement."

H.R. 1338 is sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and 231 co-sponsors. In the Senate, an identical bill, S. 766, is sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and 22 co-sponsors and is pending in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Senate bill could be taken up after the August congressional recess.

The legislation would amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to strengthen penalties for equal pay violations, enhance data collection from employers so that patterns of sex discrimination in pay can be identified, and more directly place the responsibility on employers defending wage differences to show that the differences are due to factors other than sex. A particularly important provision establishes the right of wage discrimination plaintiffs under the Equal Pay Act to receive compensatory and punitive damages, a remedy that is available in most other anti-discrimination statutes.

Other provisions of this historic bill apply more broadly by clarifying language in the Equal Pay Act to allow for reasonable comparisons between employees to determine fair wages and would prohibit retaliation against employees who inquire about their employer’s wage practices or share information about their own wages. Further, it eases requirements on discrimination victims to proceed in a class action lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act.

The bill requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to train employees and affected entities on matters involving wages, and encourages the Department of Labor to make grants for negotiation skills training programs for girls and women — sort of a "self defense" regimen for workers who cannot expect wage fairness from their employers.

In the face of the current administration’s efforts to drop all data collection about women workers, the bill requires the EEOC to collect certain pay information and directs the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to collect data on women workers in the Current Employment Statistics survey.

In floor remarks, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) stressed that women of color suffer additional pay discrimination, with Latinas being paid on average 57 cents and African-American women being paid 68 cents compared to the dollar paid to men.

Several amendments to the Paycheck Fairness Act were adopted, including one to delay the effective date of the bill by six months to allow for the Department of Labor to educate small businesses about what is required under the law. Also adopted was an amendment to change the standard for punitive damage awards from "intentional" discrimination to "malice or reckless indifference."

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. DeLauro, who has advocated for this legislation for a decade, was ardent in her floor remarks for the Act, saying that it will lead to better recognition of the "value or the work that women do in this society". She noted recent studies that show highly educated women are still earning less than comparable male colleagues across a range of occupations.

DeLauro recalled the unfair treatment of Lily Ledbetter whose pay discrimination claim was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. Legislation to address inequities in the law that affected Ms. Ledbetter has passed the House but is languishing in the Senate.

Copyright 1995-2008, All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-commercial use. National Organization for Women
(This was printed from http://www.now.org/issues/economic/080108paycheckfairness.html)


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