Women Still Not Fully Protected Against Pay Discrimination

Wage discrimination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report the introduction of a new piece of legislation that could help protect women from unequal pay in the workplace. The Paycheck Fairness Act was recently re-introduced into Congress after it failed to pass in 2010 and 2012.

A little over four years ago, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, making it the first bill he signed as president. The equal-pay legislation was named for an Alabama woman who was paid less than her co-workers at a tire factory for nearly twenty years. The law expanded workers’ rights to sue employers who have discriminated against them and relaxed the statue of limitations for such cases. President Obama cited the struggle of Lilly Ledbetter many times in his 2008 campaign, and she even made an appearance at the Democratic National Convention.

Over a decade after she started working for Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Ledbetter discovered she was being paid significantly less than her male peers. She brought her case to court, and although a jury found the company guilty of pay discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled against her, saying she should have filed the claim within 180 days of the date the company first paid her less. Ledbetter’s Law restarts the 180 day requirement after every single paycheck.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is intended to close the gaping loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, to ensure that women like Ledbetter will never be paid unequally in the first place. Senate Republicans, including five female Senators, blocked the Fairness Act in 2010 and 2012 by small margins. The bill will require employers to prove that any salary differences between men and women performing the same job are not related to gender. It will also prohibit employers from punishing employees who share wage information with their peers, and require the Labor Department to increase its communication with American employers to further eliminate any wage disparities.

President Obama called the decision incredibly disappointing, adding that the law is nothing more than common sense, intended to strengthen the Equal Pay Act and give American women a chance to fight against pay discrimination. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass) claimed he did not support the law because he believes it would burden small businesses, saying the Equal Pay, Civil Rights, and Lilly Ledbetter Acts provide adequate protection for women in the workplace.

Today, nearly half of all employers either discourage or completely ban employees from inquiring about or discussing wages. If the Paycheck Fairness Act had been around when Ledbetter was working, she would have known about the discriminatory practices sooner, and more than likely won her lawsuit against Goodyear.

According to Bloomberg, the number of women employed full-time grew after the recession, while the number of men in the workforce shrank. Despite this, for every $1 made by men, women earned about 77 cents. This pay gap is independent of occupation, education, and experience, and has remained relatively unchanged for a number of years. At the current rate of change, the average woman employee will not reach equal pay with men until about 2063.

The wage gap is reinforced by the phenomenon of occupational segregation, which pigeon holes women into traditional roles in the work force. Such roles include nurses, teachers, and secretarial work, while men still dominate in positions of authority, and in the construction, technology, and agriculture industries.

Advocates of the Fairness Act say that a rapid decrease – any time before 2063 – in the wage gap is not going to happen without legislative action. Adding fuel to the fire, the gap for African American and Hispanic women is much worse. For every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes, African American women make 64 cents, and Latina women make 55. This, despite the fact that nearly 40% of women are the primary providers in their household, which means less money for groceries, tuition, and medical bills for an extremely high percentage of American families.

2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, yet the country is still fighting against discriminatory pay and workplace practices. Employer discrimination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm hope the Paycheck Fairness Act succeeds in its third pass through Congress. If you or someone close to you was the victim of unfair workplace practices, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to compensation.