Tired of Waiting? Urge Senate to Vote on Paycheck Fairness Act

Women Can't Wait Much Longer: The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act more than a year ago, but Senate action on this important bill is stalled. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182) would make it easier to prove sex discrimination by requiring disclosure about wages, toughening penalties and preventing retaliation. S. 182 is a strong and needed step in the right direction. In honor of Equal Pay Day, urge your senators to move this legislation to a floor vote ASAP.

Read more about this important issue in our background section.

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Background

Equal Pay Day -- observed this year on April 20 -- is a symbolic date when women's earnings into a second year finally catch up to the salary made by men in the previous year. In recent decades the gap has narrowed only because men's wages have stagnated, and progress is moving at the glacial pace of a fraction of a cent per year. The disparity between women's and men's pay is a huge barrier to women's equality that costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars in our lifetimes. The wage gap undermines women's struggle for independence by compromising their financial security. Equal pay for equal or substantially similar work is more important than ever now that many women are the prime breadwinners during this recession, which has seen many more men lose their jobs. Sex-based wage discrimination is undoubtedly a factor in the high mortgage foreclosure rate, which continues unabated.

Pay Gap Always Present - Several recent reports document that from the moment they graduate from college women are penalized with a lower salary compared with identical male counterparts -- for instance, an average of $4,600 less for female MBA grads. An oft-cited reason for the pay gap is that women take time out of the paid workforce to care for children and thus lose out on promotions and pay increases. The Catalyst study, however, showed that the salary difference existed even for women with no children. Center for American Progress economist Heather Boushey testified at a recent congressional hearing that the pay gap grows over time. One reason is that women are less likely than men to negotiate for a high salary, and the cumulative effect over a working career is great.

Huge Lifetime Losses - A small hopeful change in 2009 was an increase to 80.2 of the earnings ratio for the median weekly earnings for female full-time workers compared to male median weekly earnings, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. However, a more important statistic relates to women's annual earnings. In her median annual earnings, a woman working full time made 77.1 percent (this amount has declined slightly in recent years) of the pay made by a man working the same hours, in 2008. The figure is lower for women of color and is a prime reason for the perpetuation of economic vulnerability of these groups.

African-American women, for instance, are paid 67.9 percent of men's wages, and Latinas take home 58 percent of what men are paid. Experts estimate that the gender wage gap costs women between $700,000 to $2 million in lifetime earnings; lifetime losses range higher for women in top professional categories. The gender-based pay gap creates serious economic insecurity for women and their families and is a major factor of old age poverty for women.

PFA Addresses Wrongs - Among the remedies found in the Paycheck Fairness Act is a provision that allows wronged women to collect compensatory and punitive damages -- a standard practice in discrimination cases based on race or ethnicity that is still unavailable to women. The new act will also prohibit employers from retaliating against their staff for sharing salary information with each other; this will allow an employee to freely determine if she is experiencing wage discrimination and take appropriate action. This provision alone might have spared Lilly Ledbetter the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the need to take her case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Employers Must Prove Reasons - The act limits acceptable justifications for an affirmative defense, which is "factors other than sex" used by employers to explain lower wages of their female workers. Currently, employers can claim a broad range of reasons, such as women's "weaker" salary negotiations skills, to rationalize paying women less. The Paycheck Fairness Act will require employers to show that the pay gap is truly caused by factors other than sex-stereotyping and relates directly to job performance. The act also establishes a grant program that would train women on how to gain better jobs and encourage them to break out of low-paying job categories. Finally, the Paycheck Fairness Act improves guidelines on the collection and publication of wage discrimination information and research.

The Lily Ledbetter Act was a needed clarification in the Title VII employment discrimination law. Now, we must follow through on the momentum and take the next most important step by securing passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Send a message asking your senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act NOW.