Although much progress has been made since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 for workers’ rights and combating wage discrimination, unequal pay and pay discrimination are still realities in America.
Equal Pay Act
In 1963, President Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Act to combat pay discrimination based on sex. The Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, clarifying that an employer may not pay an employee less than another employee of the opposite gender if they engage in the same work. (This may be exempted if pay is based on a factor other than sex, such as a merit or seniority system.) Although the Act’s focus was primarily on pay discrimination against women in the workforce, it protects both men and women from unequal pay.
Paycheck Fairness Act
The 111th Congress first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2009 (as S. 182 and H.R. 12 in the Senate and the House, respectively) to expand the scope of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and to further amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The Act provided remedies to victims of discriminatory practices regarding the payment of wages on the basis of one’s gender. Although the House of Representatives approved the bill in January 2009, the Senate failed to move the bill forward in November 2010. At President Barack Obama’s urging, the bill was reintroduced in both chambers in April 2011 (this time as S.797 and H.R. 1519), but it was rejected again. Members of Congress have continually rejected it ever since, despite its repeated reintroductions.
Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first law enacted by President Obama, signed on January 29, 2009. It restores an anti-discrimination law that existed prior to the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., in which the Court ruled that an individual must file a complaint within 180 days of an employer committing pay discrimination if he or she wishes to be indemnified. This Act overrides that court decision by making clear that each discriminatory paycheck is a new act of discrimination, which resets the 180-day limit to file a claim. At the same time, the Act states that plaintiffs still can recover back pay for a period of no more than 2 years before they challenge the discrimination. The law is named after Lily Ledbetter, a production supervisor at a Good Year Tire plant in Alabama who discovered she had been paid less than her male coworkers for almost two decades. Ledbetter fought to achieve stronger equal pay laws in the country.
Why Are These Important to NAPE?
Although much progress has been made since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 for workers’ rights and combating wage discrimination, unequal pay and pay discrimination are still realities in America. For example, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, on average (up 3 cents from 2018). These statistics are far worse for women of color: 61 cents for African American women (down 7 cents from 2018), and 53 cents for Latinas (down 5 cents from 2018).
Additionally, pay discrimination can be very hard to notice, and it can take years for a victim to realize she is making less than coworkers who do equal work, which has drastic ramifications for families’ economic security and the nation’s economic recovery. In addition to simply being unjust, wage discrimination negatively impacts a nation’s economic development, and makes it much harder for women and families to pay for education, childcare, healthcare, and more. Over time, unequal pay translates to a significant retirement gap as well, greatly affecting women’s ability to live comfortably in old age. Furthermore, society loses additional tax revenue because of the wage gap while having to increase spending on safety net programs for women who are not making a living wage. From individuals, to families, to society at large, all parties lose with a gender pay gap.
In the 116th Congress, the bill, H.R. 7 – Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced on January 30 2019 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. It was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. On March 27, 2019, the legislation was passed in House. On passage: Passed by the Yeas and Nays: 242 – 187. The legislation was received in the Senate on March 28, 2019. With a first reading on April 2, 2019, on April 3, 2019 the bill was read the second time and placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 53
April 11, 2013: The House rejected a motion that would bring the Paycheck Fairness Act up for a vote. This eliminated any chance of the bill being voted on – and potentially passed – by the House any time soon.
June 5, 2012: The Senate voted to prevent the Paycheck Fairness Act from receiving an up-or-down vote. The bill fell short of the 60 votes required to avoid a filibuster, thus it did not move to the floor for debate. The House of Representatives also voted against consideration of corresponding legislation, effectively killing the bill. Legislators have continually blocked Paycheck Fairness from being voted on in both chambers.
Despite much progress since enactment of the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago, much remains to be done to close the gender wage gap and to protect workers from pay discrimination and retaliation from their employers. Congress must create a climate where wage discrimination is not tolerated, and provide the Administration with the enforcement tools it needs to make real progress on pay equity. For more information on NAPE’s policy recommendations regarding paycheck fairness, please go to NAPE’s Public Policy Agenda.
Resources and Publications
- National Committee on Pay Equity
- National Partnership for Women & Families: Workplace Fairness
- National Women’s Law Center: Equal Pay and Wage Gap
- The Wage Project
- 50 Years & Counting: The Unfinished Business of Achieving Fair Pay (National Women’s Law Center, June 2013)
- The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (AAUW, 2013)
- Video: 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, Conversation with Rep. Edwards and Rep. DeLauro
- Video: Lily Ledbetter on the Importance of the Paycheck Fairness Act
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