Three years ago, after the Supreme Court decision in the Lilly Ledbetter case, the Commission on Women in the Profession presented a resolution in the ABA House of Delegates that urged Congress to allow more time in which to file a complaint challenging pay discrimination. The House of Delegates approved that resolution, and thereafter Congress enacted the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama.
In February, the Commission once again returned to the House of Delegates to present a resolution urging Congress to enact legislation consistent with the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide more effective remedies and procedures for victims of pay discrimination (Report No. 107). The House of Delegates approved this resolution, correctly recognizing that enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act is the logical next step that must be taken to achieve pay equity for women. While it was vitally important to keep the courthouse doors open for women who have experienced pay discrimination, it is equally important that Congress take action to prevent such discrimination from happening in the first place.
Congress sought to eliminate pay discrimination against women when it enacted the Equal Pay Act of 1963. However, that goal still has not been achieved, as women continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men performing substantially similar work. This wage differential exists in all 50 states and affects women at every educational and occupational level, including women lawyers. Indeed, on average, women lawyers earn just 80 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, and this disparity increases with seniority. The largest pay gap exists between male and female equity partners.
Moreover, the pay differential between men and women is particularly acute for women of color, including women lawyers of color. As explained in the Commission's groundbreaking study, Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms (2006), white male lawyers earn nearly double the salary of women lawyers of color.
It is readily apparent that the Equal Pay Act has not come anywhere near achieving its goal of eliminating pay discrimination. The Act's remedies and procedures are outdated in certain respects, and loopholes have further undermined its effectiveness. The Paycheck Fairness Act will level the playing field by providing women who have experienced pay discrimination the same remedies that have long been afforded to those who have been discriminated against on the basis of their race or national origin.
Although the Paycheck Fairness Act was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives in January 2009, it has languished in the Senate. The Commission will continue to advocate vigorously for adoption of the Paycheck Fairness Act, as well as other legislation necessary to ensure equal treatment for women. It is also incumbent upon each of you to let your respective senators know that maintenance of the status quo is simply unacceptable. Pay equality for tens of millions of working women is long overdue.