Bill to fight wage discrimination based on sex fails to garner votes
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President Barack Obama supported the bill, and said Wednesday after the vote that his administration will “continue to fight” for equal pay.
“As we emerge from one of the worst recessions in history, this bill would ensure that American women and their families aren’t bringing home smaller paychecks because of discrimination,” Obama said. “It also helps businesses that pay equal wages as they struggle to compete against discriminatory competition. But a partisan minority of senators blocked this common sense law.”
The vote came in the first week lawmakers reconvened since the midterm elections. With support for the bill falling broadly along partisan lines, the bill now faces steep odds of moving forward. In January, Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.
Women earn less on averageThe bill’s supporters said stronger laws are needed to erase the persistent earnings gap between men and women, while critics said the bill could hurt businesses and workers.
In 2009, women who were full-time workers earned median weekly wages or salary of $657, compared with $819 for men, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That is, women’s median weekly earnings were about 80% of men’s. However, it’s unclear how much of that gap is attributable to sexism. Read more: Men losing more ground than women in U.S. pay slide.
Portia Wu, vice president at National Partnership for Women & Families, an advocacy group, said the law should encourage people to do the right thing. “For truly bad actors we do think there has to be some strong deterrent,” Wu said.
Also, there is the everyday, practical concern of families paying their bills, she said. “The wage gap is really hurting families’ economic security and having equal pay means more money in people’s pockets to afford things,” she said.
Business advocates said the Paycheck Fairness Act would have hurt firms by increasing possible damages against them and limiting their ability to defend legitimate pay differences.
Lawrence Lorber, who represents employers as a partner with the law firm Proskauer, said the Paycheck Fairness Act could lead to more rigid pay practices.
“Some women may get pay increases, but what is going to happen is inevitably you will move toward a very rigid civil-service-like pay system, and there won’t be any opportunity for significant merit-based raises,” Lorber said. “What you will have to do is assure that when you give increases you don’t wind up with some sort of a pay differential, and you do that by not giving pay increases or by creating superficial promotions.”
Wage discrimination based on workers’ sex is already illegal. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have amplified current laws with steps such as:
- Amending the Equal Pay Act to limit the defense that employers can use to respond to charges of wage discrimination based on sex. Reasons that employers could cite would be restricted to “bona fide” factors such as a difference between employees’ education, training or experience. Employers would also have to demonstrate that the factor is job related and consistent with business necessity.
- Allowing the class for class-action suits in wage-discrimination cases under the Equal Pay Act to be created by an opt-out policy. Currently if employees bring an action under the Equal Pay Act they have to opt in.
- Requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay information data on the sex, race and national origin or employees to enforce federal laws that prohibit pay discrimination.
- Providing for uncapped punitive and compensatory damages against employers.