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House Passes Paycheck Fairness Act

On July 31, the House passed, 247-178, the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338). The House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill on July 24 (see The Source, 7/25/08).

The House adopted:

  • an amendment, by voice vote, by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) that would clarify that only employees, and not job applicants, would be covered by the bill;
  • an amendment, 397-29, by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) that would allow punitive damages to be awarded only when it could be proved that wage discrimination was intentional;
  • an amendment, 426-1, by Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) that would postpone the bill’s effective date for six months in order to allow the Department of Labor sufficient time to educate small businesses about compliance;
  • an amendment, by voice vote, by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would block the inclusion of earmarks in the grant program established by the bill; and
  • an amendment, 410-16, by Rep. Don Cazayoux (D-LA) that would clarify that the bill would not affect employers’ compliance with applicable immigration laws.The House rejected:
  • an amendment, 189-236, by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that would recommit the bill in order to add language indicating that gas prices are high and Congress has not enacted measures to lower prices, and cap attorney fees in wage discrimination lawsuits at $1,000 an hour; and
  • an amendment, 188-240, also by Rep. Price that would delay the enactment of the bill until the Department of Labor reported to Congress, within 90 days of the bill’s passage, that the provisions of the bill would not inhibit employers’ ability to recruit and hire employees regardless of gender.Bill sponsor Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CA) stated: “[B]y supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act, [we are] reasserting the principle that women and men should be paid the same when doing the same work, and making it real by allowing female employees to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. It does so without imposing the arbitrary caps women face under Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act (P.L. 88-352)]. It protects employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with their coworkers, with some exemptions. And it establishes a grant initiative to provide negotiation skills training programs for girls and women. Let me also be clear about what this bill does not do. It does not eliminate key employer defenses against claims of discrimination. The bill simply makes clear that when an employer states that its pay scale is informed by a ‘factor other than sex,’ that must actually be true, and not just an excuse to continue discriminatory practices. H.R. 1338 merely restores Congress’ intent, which has been undermined by court interpretations over the years allowing employers to escape liability in cases in which their decisions were, in fact, based on sex. Finally, H.R. 1338 does not refer to, or include, provisions on comparable worth. Nothing in this bill would allow comparisons of jobs that are dissimilar but equivalent.”

    Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), speaking in opposition to the bill, stated, “I find it very interesting that our colleagues have such hubris that they think we are going to solve all of the problems of the world here in the Congress. I wish that it were so. I worked all my life for equal rights for women, and I don’t take a back seat to anyone on this floor or in this body for that. But I want to say that this bill is not going to solve the problem that we face in terms of equal pay for equal work. My colleagues have reviewed very well the existing law. They have stated well why this bill is not needed…This bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, will not do what the Democrats purport that it will do. It will help trial lawyers…I think this bill will make it easier for trial lawyers to cash in. It includes several steps that will make it more lucrative for trial lawyers to pursue sex discrimination claims under the EPA [Equal Pay Act (P.L. 88-38)]. This may be good for lawyers, but it will be costly for businesses and their workers.”

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