April 01, 2014

Senate fails to move forward on Paycheck Fairness Act

The Senate failed this month to garner the 60 votes necessary to proceed to consideration of the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill supported by the ABA.

The bill, S. 2199, proposes much-needed modifications and improvements to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits an employer from paying unequal wages to male and female workers who perform jobs under similar work conditions that require substantially equal skills, effort and responsibility unless there is a legitimate reason for a pay differential. The bill also would seeks to prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about or disclose their wages to other employees as part of a complaint or investigation.

No Republicans voted for the bill, and Sen. Angus King (D-Maine) joined the Republicans in opposition. The proposal was also blocked in 2010 and 2012 by Republicans, who maintained that legislation is not necessary and would impose additional burdens on businesses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed his vote from yea to nay so that he may bring S. 2199 to the floor again. 

“The bill will help strengthen the economy by improving the present and future economic welfare of working women, who comprise about one-half of the work force and are the primary breadwinners in more than 13 million American families,” ABA President James R. Silkenat wrote in an April 7 letter to all senators.

In his letter, Silkenat responded to some prevalent misperceptions regarding the legislation. He said the bill will not:

•discriminate against male employees because the provisions would apply equally to men and women who experience sex-based wage discrimination;

•create a new mandate to compel businesses to pay their female work force substantially more money to eliminate the existing wage gap;

•make employers liable for any and every wage differential;

•eviscerate legitimate use of the “factor other than sex” defense;

•interject the government in the pay decisions of businesses; or

•spawn enormous verdicts against employers that will bankrupt businesses and further jeopardize a frail economy.

The bill, Silkenat said, is “designed to provide a greater incentive for all employers to abide by law, not to encourage more lawsuits.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act “does not alter the basic scheme” of the Equal Pay Act or “impose unreasonable burdens on employers; indeed the majority of it proposed changes are borrowed from other civil rights statutes that have proved more effective in eradicating workplace discrimination,” he said.

President Obama, who supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, took related action April 8 when he issued an executive order and a presidential memorandum to help combat pay discrimination and strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws. The executive order prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation. The presidential memorandum instructs the secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data about sex and race.

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