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House Committee Passes Paycheck Fairness Act

On July 24, the House Education and Labor Committee approved, 26-17, H.R. 1338, the Paycheck Fairness Act. The committee held a hearing on the bill on April 24, 2007 (see The Source, 4/27/07).

Sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill would amend a portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) (P.L. 99-239) known as the Equal Pay Act to expand the remedies for, and enforcement of prohibitions against, gender-based wage discrimination. Specifically, the measure would require employers to demonstrate that the wage discrimination is not based upon previous “gender-based” wage discrepancies. In addition, the measure would add non-retaliation requirements and increase penalties for employers who are found to have discriminated against female hires.

The committee approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Chair George Miller (D-CA) to require that employers provide a justifiable, non-gender related reason for a discrepancy in wages between male and female workers. It also would widen the geographical area in which employees could compare salaries and jobs as a basis of discrimination from within the same building to within the county, and would prohibit employer backlash against workers who compare salaries. The amendment also would make compensatory and punitive damages available in private and class action Equal Pay Act law suits.

The bill would authorize $15 million for two new initiatives. The first would direct the Bureau of Labor Statistics, within 18 months of the bill’s enactment, to issue a survey of pay data already available and subsequently ask the government to issue new regulations for pay data collection. The second initiative would establish a negotiation skills training programs for girls and women.

The committee rejected:

  • an amendment, 17-26, by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) requiring a 90-day period for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to “undertake an informed review of the effect [of H.R. 1338] on recruitment” of female workers; and
  • an amendment, 17-25, by Rep. Price capping attorney fees for gender-related discrimination lawsuits at $2,000 per hour.Rep. Miller said, “Today, we will take a critical step forward to ensure that the Equal Pay Act lives up to its promise. The Paycheck Fairness Act will strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close many of the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility of discriminatory pay…Any wage gap based on gender is unacceptable, especially during these tough economic times. By allowing wage discrimination to continue, we hold down women and their families while harming the American economy as a whole. In the new global economy, those who stand in the way of equal pay are tying one hand behind America’s back.”

    Rep. DeLauro added, “Pay equity is not a women’s issue. It is a family issue. And with committee approval of the Paycheck Fairness Act, today marks one of my proudest moments in Congress. After years of hard work, we are inches away from finally bringing to the floor the Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives. Last year, when Nancy Pelosi broke the marble ceiling to be sworn-in as Speaker of the House, women and young girls across the country were inspired to know that there is no job in this country they cannot do, and with this legislation, we send a second message, that when they do land that job, they will no longer be underpaid — that we value the work women do. We have made strides in the American workplace during the last quarter century, but our work is not done. Closing the wage gap is about fairness, opportunity, and values. By ensuring pay equity we can help families gain the resources they need to give their children a better future — the great promise of our American dream.”

    Ranking Member Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) said, “This bill isn’t about paycheck fairness. It’s already against federal law to discriminate, in pay or other employment practices, on the basis of sex, and rightfully so. In 1963, Congress established the Equal Pay Act, or EPA, within the Fair Labor Standards Act. The EPA makes it illegal to pay different wages to employees of the opposite sex for equal work. In addition to the EPA, Congress has enacted a comprehensive code of anti-discrimination rules based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act [P.L. 88-352]. Together, these laws protect against sex discrimination, and they provide appropriate remedies for victims. What we’re debating today is not whether sex discrimination in the workplace should be permitted. That question has been answered — we agree that such discrimination should not be tolerated, and that is why it is a direct violation of not one but two federal laws. What we’re actually debating today is whether it should be easier for trial lawyers to cash in under the Equal Pay Act, and whether it should be more difficult for employers to make legitimate employment decisions based on factors other than sex. Legitimate wage disparity is a serious issue. Wage discrimination is prohibited under federal law, and should be rooted out aggressively. But if Democrats were serious about addressing workers’ wage concerns, there are far better ways to do it than through another trial lawyer payday.”

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