July 23, 2019

Momentum Builds for Legislation to Assure Equal Pay for Equal Work

The recent World Cup victory by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has refocused attention on the persistent and pernicious problem of gender-based wage discrimination. More than half a century after the Equal Pay Act was enacted to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers,” women, working full-time and year-round, earn on average 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. And, in the rarified world of professional sports, pay discrimination is much worse. According to women athletes, the U.S. Soccer Federation pays women just 38 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

Even though concern over paycheck discrimination is not new, and members of the women’s soccer team filed their initial discrimination complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2016, it took fans chanting “equal pay” during the recent World Cup games to rally the public and animate legislators at both the state and federal level to take action.

On July 10, the day of the New York City parade in honor of their victory, Governor Cuomo signed bills guaranteeing that those working in New York have the right to equal pay and barring businesses from asking potential employees about their salary history, thereby preventing prior wage history from being used to justify paying less to women for comparable work.

On the same day, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Athletics Fair Pay Act, a bill to require equal pay and compensation for all Olympic and amateur athletes.

While female athletes frequently receive significantly less pay than their male counterparts, women throughout the workforce often are subject to gender-based wage discrimination regardless of their career choice or the state in which they live. Advocates hope that public outrage over disparities in athletes’ salaries will be enough to revitalize efforts to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act, broad remedial legislation that is vigorously supported by the ABA.

Originally introduced decades ago, the Paycheck Fairness Act was most recently introduced at the start of the 116th Congress as H.R. 7 by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D- CT) and as S. 270 by Senator Patty Murray (Senator Feinstein is a cosponsor).

The sole purpose of the legislation is to update the Equal Pay Act, which has become outdated and ineffective, so that men and women have the tools to assert their legal right to equal pay for equal work. It would, among other things, require employers to demonstrate that pay disparities are based on legitimate, work-related factors; strengthen the remedies available under the Act; improve oversight and enforcement mechanisms; and prohibit retaliation for disclosure of salary information.

The House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act on March 28 by a vote of 242-187, with seven Republicans joining Democrats to pass the bill. The legislation has stalled in the Senate to date because the Majority Leader has declined to schedule a vote.

The ABA, which has a long history of opposing discrimination in the workplace, adopted policy specifically supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010. The ABA will consider adopting two supplemental polices during the upcoming 2019 Annual Meeting. Resolution 106 urges the employers in the legal profession to close the compensation gap between similarly situated men and women lawyers. Resolution 115B updates and expands the 2010 policy and urges Congress, the states, and territories to enact legislation that would provide stronger remedies and protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex (including gender, gender identity, and gender expression), race, and ethnicity.

To learn more about legislative developments on paycheck fairness when they happen, follow us on Twitter @ABAGrassroots.

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