The 2011 Supreme Court ruling in the Wal-Mart vs. Duke gender discrimination case blocked the biggest potential class-action lawsuit in history, prohibiting 1.5 million women from filing suit together in gender discrimination charges against Wal-Mart. The devastating ruling highlights the importance of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was reintroduced this year by Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Rosa DeLauro. Congress took an important step in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This vital law reverses the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, and helps to ensure that individuals subject to unlawful compensation discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws. But the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, critical as it is, is just one of the many tools needed to address unfair wage disparities.
The Paycheck Fairness Act updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to ensure that it will provide effective protections against sex-based pay discrimination. Toward that end, the comprehensive bill bars retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss their wages. It allows women to receive the same remedies for sex based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subject to discrimination based on race and ethnicity.
The Coalition of Labor Union Women will vigorously support the prompt passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.797/H.R. 1519) which will:
• Allow employees to disclose salary information to co-workers despite workplace rules;
• Allow class action lawsuits to be filed and provide for compensatory and punitive
• Call for a study of data collected by the EEOC and propose voluntary guidelines to
show employers how to evaluate jobs.
A much-needed updated of the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.1519) is a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education and enforcement efforts. Championed by longtime AAUW friend Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages. Together with the Ledbetter bill, this critical piece of legislation can help create a climate where pay discrimination is not tolerated, and give the new administration the enforcement tools it needs to make real progress on pay equity.
With a record number of women in the workforce, wage discrimination hurts the majority of American families, both in terms of their economic security today and their retirement security tomorrow. Due to rising employment rates, an unprecedented number of women are now the family breadwinner - making pay equity even more critical, not simply to family economic security, but also to the nation's economic recovery.
In 2010 women who worked full-time earned about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color the gap is wider—African-American women earned only 67 cents, and Latinas just 58 cents. Wage inequalities are not simply a result of women’s qualifications or choices. Wage discrimination continues despite women’s increased education, greater level of experience in the workforce and decreased time spent raising children. When women are paid fairly, whole families win. A lifetime of lower wages means that women can save less for retirement and qualify for lower social security and pension payments. The median income of older women is just half of that of older men. The Paycheck Fairness Act would eliminate loopholes that have undermined the effectiveness of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Today symbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010. Every year, April 12 is commemorated as Equal Pay Day, a reminder that nonunion women workers are still at a disadvantage. Over a lifetime, this pay inequity can cost women between $375,00 to $1.5 million. Since women’s incomes account for one-third of their family’s take-home-pay, it has a significant impact on their families as well.
Actress and writer Marlo Thomas points out today in Huffington Post :
...National Equal Pay Day. I can't believe we're having another one. I still have my little green button from 1970 -- with "59¢" emblazoned on it -- tacked to my bulletin board. I remember how we all wore that button on our t-shirts as we marched to protest the gender pay disparity of that time. Now we're at 77 cents.
Forty years and 18 cents. A dozen eggs has gone up 10 times that amount.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed to pass the U.S. Senate last year, is being reintroduced today by Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Rosa L. DeLauro. The Act would make it harder for employers to pay unequal pay for equal work; remove obstacles to class action lawsuits based on gender discrimination; and ensure the Department of Labor uses its full investigatory tools to uncover pay discrimination.
The Paycheck Fairness Act provides a much needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 – a law that has not been able to achieve its promise of closing the wage gap because of limited enforcement tools and inadequate remedies. Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:
• require employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and stem from factors other than sex;
• prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages, while also protecting certain confidential wage information;
• level the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin;
• encourage proactive enforcement of equal pay laws by re-instating the collection of wage-related data and providing for training for the workers who enforce our equal pay laws; and
• provide important safeguards for businesses, including:
o providing an exemption for small businesses;
o instituting a six months waiting period from the time of enactment and requiring the Department of Labor to assist small businesses with compliance; and
o recognizing employers for excellence in their pay practices and strengthening federal outreach and assistance to all businesses to help improve equal pay practices.