Data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009 shows that women who worked full time earned, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earned. The figures are even worse for women of color. African American women only earned approximately 62 cents and Latinas only 53 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.
Accordingly, Senator Tom Harkin most appropriately chose April 12, 2011 -- Equal Pay Day -- to reintroduce the Fair Pay Act of 2011. Harkin has introduced this bill every congress since 1996. The bill would require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions. It would also require companies to disclose their pay scales and rates for all job categories.
Under current law a women who believes she is the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and go through what is almost always a long drawn out legal discovery process to find out whether she makes less than the man working beside her.
Many will recall that it took Lilly Ledbetter nearly 20 years before she discovered she was being paid less than men doing the same job which prompted her to file a lawsuit. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in 2007 -- because it held that the case was filed too late -- Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which helps level the playing field for victims of wage discrimination. The bill was signed in 2009 by President Obama – but it didn’t go far enough.
Harkin was also an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act which passed the House during the 111th Congress but was filibustered in the Senate. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the enforcement of the current equal pay laws, prohibit retaliation against workers for sharing salary information with co-workers, and strengthen penalties against employers for violations of equal pay laws.
The Paycheck Fairness Act was reintroduced on Equal Pay Day by Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Senator Barbara Mikulski. For more about it, read here.It’s both disheartening and disturbing that women still must fight this hard for laws intended to effectively prevent wage discrimination which remains rampant in the workplace today.