Leahy takes stance on equal pay

Following is the statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday urging the Senate to overcome a filibuster and to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act:

Today, we have an opportunity to take another long overdue step to close the wage gap between men and women. Equal pay for equal work should not be a Democratic nor a Republican issue, but an American issue of basic fairness. It is shameful that gender discrimination still exists in our country, and more so at a time when women make an ever increasing number of heads of households. That is why I am proud to join Sen. Mikulski as a cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Vermont has been a leader in the fight of equal pay for equal work. According to a recent report by the American Association of University Women, the state of Vermont leads the nation, second only to the District of Columbia, in equal pay issues, yet Vermont women still make just 84 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Over a decade ago, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation requiring equal pay for equal work, barring employers from retaliating against employees for disclosing the amount of their wages, and made it easier to file wage discrimination claims. Unfortunately, not all states offer these protections. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a step in the right direction to bring Vermont’s inclusive example to the federal level.

The Paycheck Fairness Act sets out a clear path to address the systemic problems that result from pay disparities. It takes critical steps to ensure that employers follow the law; prohibits retaliation against workers for disclosing their own wage information or for filing a charge in an Equal Pay Act proceeding; strengthens penalties for equal pay violations; adds programs for training, research, technical assistance to help better identify and handle wage disputes; and establishes a “national award for pay equity in the workplace,” recognizing employers who demonstrate “substantial effort to eliminate pay disparities between men and women.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act would also narrow the criteria under which an employer can defend pay disparities and enlist the Department of Labor to help eliminate gender-based pay gaps. This bill would ensure that American women and their families aren’t taking home smaller paychecks because of their gender. Another piece of this legislation specifically deals with reforming the procedures and remedies for enforcing the law. It would mandate record-keeping and data collection for better enforcement of the law. Under this bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be directed to issue regulations for the collection of wage data from employers based on sex, race, and ethnicity.
This legislation would be another in a series of bills seeking to address the harms against working women. The Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963 to protect employees against wage discrimination with respect to an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. It is true that we have closed the wage gap for women versus their male counterparts from 61 cents on the dollar 1961, to 77 cents today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that decreases to 62 cents on the dollar for African-American women, and just 53 cents on the dollar for Hispanic-American women. Being 77 percent right is not good enough. The efforts to achieve parity for women in the workplace must continue.

In 2009, I joined Sen. Mikulski and others in introducing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. That bill was necessary to remedy the Supreme Court’s divided decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which struck a severe blow to the rights of working families across our country. The Ledbetter decision stripped back 40 years of progress to eliminate workplace discrimination.

In that case, Ms. Ledbetter worked for nearly 20 years as a manager at a Goodyear factory in Gadsden, Ala. After decades of service, she learned through an anonymous note that her employer had been discriminating against her for years. She was the only woman among 16 employees at her management level, yet Ms. Ledbetter was paid between 15 and 40 percent less than all of her male colleagues, including several who had significantly less seniority. After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal jury found that Ms. Ledbetter was owed almost $225,000 in back pay. However, five members of the Supreme Court overturned her jury verdict because she had filed her lawsuit more than 180 days after her employer’s original discriminatory act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act restored victims’ ability to file suit for pay discrimination and was among the first bills to be signed into law by President Obama. It is not surprising that today the administration announced its strong support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Congress should send this legislation to President Obama to be signed into law, without delay.

Wage discrimination affects women of every generation and every socioeconomic background. It is not limited to one line of work or level of education. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a step in securing that equal pay for equal work is more than just a slogan or an ideal, but a reality for every American, regardless of gender, race or any other factor that does not evaluate people on the basis of what they can offer and what they can contribute to the workforce. I urge all senators to join in passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure all of our daughters and granddaughters, and future generations of Americans, are not subject to the same injustice that has plagued women for decades.


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