House Approves Bill to Help Close Gender Wage Gap

Jan 9, 2009 Issues: Worker Rights

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation today that would help end the discriminatory practice of paying men and women unequally for performing the same job.

 By a 256 to 163 vote, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12), introduced by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a bill that will strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close loopholes that have allowed many employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay. The measure, along with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was among the first to be considered by the 111th Congress.

“This is a historic step forward in the fight for equal rights for women. It’s a shame that so many women still struggle to receive equal pay for equal work,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “Any wage gap based on gender is unacceptable, especially as we work to rebuild our economy during these tough economic times. If we are serious about closing the gender pay gap, we must get serious about punishing those who would otherwise scoff at the weak sanctions under current law.”

“In this economy, families are struggling to make ends meet. Not one of them deserves to be shortchanged, but because women still earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn, many unfortunately are. But this does not need to be,” said Rep. DeLauro. “Today, by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, we send a strong message that gender discrimination is unacceptable and women will have the tools they need to combat it. We are standing up for working women and their families. It is our moment to fight for economic freedom and eliminate the systemic discrimination faced by women workers. With this legislation, we begin the change, make history, and change lives.”

“As millions of workers continue to struggle during this economic downturn, it is more important than ever to ensure that every American – regardless of gender – receives equal pay for equal work,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. “Today’s passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act is not only symbolically important, but makes real changes to the law which will in turn raise thousands of women out of poverty, especially those who are single parents. The Equal Pay Act was passed over 45 years ago with the best of intentions. It is fitting that we now update the law so that we can renew our commitment to tackle equal pay head on.”

Although the wage gap between men and women has narrowed since the passage of the landmark Equal Pay Act in 1963, gender-based wage discrimination remains a significant problem for women in the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women only make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

The Institute of Women’s Policy Research concluded that this wage disparity will cost a woman anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million over her lifetime in lost wages.

Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:

Require that employer seeking to justify unequal pay bear the burden of proving that its actions are job-related and consistent with a business necessity;
Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers;
Put gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination – such as discrimination based on race, disability or age – by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages;
Require the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities;
Require the Department of Labor to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender; and
Create a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.
The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of civil rights, worker, religious and business groups. To view supporters of the legislation, click here.