04.20.10

Statement On Equal Pay Day

Senate Floor

Today is Equal Pay Day:  After 16 months of work, professional women today will finally have earned what their male counterparts earned in just 12 months of work last year.  It is shameful that gender discrimination still exists in our country, and I hope today will serve as an important reminder that we must redouble our efforts to fully close the wage gap.     

Forty-six years have passed since the Equal Pay Act was enacted, yet the disparity between women’s and men’s salaries stubbornly remains.  Congress passed title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect employees against discrimination with respect to compensation because of an individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Unfortunately, a narrow ruling by the Supreme Court in 2008 meant that those who are subject to pay discrimination have no claim to remedies unless a suit is filed no more than 180 days after the pay discrimination first takes place, even if they were unaware of the discriminatory pay.  This ruling eroded longstanding interpretation of discrimination laws and created a new obstacle for victims of pay discrimination to receive justice. 

Last year, the new Congress achieved what could not be done before:  We enacted the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” which I was proud to cosponsor with Senators Mikulski, Kennedy and others.  This bill restored victims’ ability to file suit for pay discrimination and became the first bill President Obama signed into law.  Lilly Ledbetter, the courageous woman who was the subject of decades of pay discrimination, continues to fight to ensure other women do not experience the same wage disparity she did for so many years.  Lilly visited Vermont last fall as the keynote speaker at the Women’s Economic Conference I host every year.  Vermonters who attended that conference have written me and stopped me in the street to tell me how much her story meant to them.  I hope Lilly continues to speak to inspire thousands more women to pursue pay equity.

The “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” was an important first step in supporting equal pay for equal work, but our efforts must not stop there.  Today, women are still paid just 77 cents on average for every dollar a man makes.  Over the course of a woman’s career, the pay gap will mean between $400,000 and $2 million in lost wages.  Eight years ago Vermont acted to pass an equal pay act, which prohibits paying female or male workers differently for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.  Now in Vermont, employers cannot require wage non-disclosure agreements and employees are protected from retaliation for disclosing their own wage.  As a result, Vermont leads the country in having one of the narrowest wage gaps between women and men.  Today, in celebration of Equal Pay Day, Vermont’s Business & Professional Women and the Vermont Commission on Women will join their member organizations at the Vermont State House for a proclamation signing and discussion of important issues relative to women.

Two bills awaiting action in the Senate include provisions similar to those enacted in Vermont.  The “Paycheck Fairness Act,” originally introduced by Senator Clinton, of which I am an original cosponsor, creates stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, strengthens penalties for equal pay violations, and prohibits retaliation against workers for disclosing their own wage information.  This bill passed the House with bipartisan support more than a year ago and deserves action in the Senate.  The “Fair Pay Act,” introduced by Senator Harkin -- another bill that I cosponsor -- requires employers to pay equally for jobs of comparable skill, efforts and working conditions and requires employers to disclose pay scales and rates for all job categories at a given company.  To effectively close the wage gap we must address the systemic problems that are resulting in pay disparities.  I believe both these bills are essential steps to closing the wage gap. 

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue but an issue of inherent fairness.  Sadly, wage discrimination affects women of every generation and every socioeconomic background and is not limited to one career path or level of education.  We should pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act” and the “Fair Pay Act” and work toward other solutions to ensure our daughters and granddaughters are not subject to the same discrimination that has burdened American women for decades. 

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693