Next month, it will be 54 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 into law, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate against female workers based on their gender and to offer women a lower salary than their male coworkers' for the same type of work. This legislation and many other civil rights laws have helped close the gender wage gap in the United States — partially, at least.
Back in 1963, women were paid only 59 cents for every dollar men got. Today, women make about 80 cents for every dollar men make. And the gap is bigger for women of color, with Black women making around 64 cents and Latinas making about 54 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. And while legislation is being passed at the local and state level to help close the gender wage gap, such as a recent New York City law forbidding hiring managers from asking the salary history of a candidate, there hasn't been a lot of progress at the federal level.
This legislation was first introduced back in 1997. Yes, twenty years ago. The purpose of the law is to amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to include additional protections that would help close the gender wage gap in the U.S. In essence, the bill would add eight major protections — and they would benefit everyone, not just women.
First, the law would forbid employers from taking into account a prospective employee’s salary history, just like the New York City law. In addition to this, the Paycheck Fairness Act also proposes that employees receive legal protections so they can discuss their salaries openly without fearing retaliation from their employer.
Then, it would also close the loophole created by language in the Equal Pay Act that says factors "other than sex" can be cited when deciding what wages a woman will receive. This phrase can been interpreted broadly and often benefits employers, who can use it to argue why a woman is receiving lesser pay, even if the factors cited are directly related to their gender. (Think of things like “men negotiate better than women” or “the wages were based on her salary history.”)
Another important amendment aims to prohibit employers from paying men more than a women doing the same job, no matter if they're based in different offices or locations. This is currently a loophole that can be used by employers to pay women less. And if a woman sued and won in court, the Paycheck Fairness Act dictates that she would have to receive compensatory and punitive damages — not just liquidated damages and back pay, as the Equal Pay Act currently requires.
The law would also make it easier for women to engage in a class-action pay discrimination suit against employers, make the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) collect pay information and other data from employers, and give additional tools to the Department of Labor to help the agency better identify cases of pay discrimination.
Since 1997, the bill has made it to Congress over and over again. Either the original version or a version with slight changes was introduced in the following years: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and also, 2017. (It was championed three times by Hillary Clinton when she was a senator, in case you were curious.)
"I believe more of our members would be supportive to pass it, but you can't vote for it if they don't bring it up," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in early April. "It's a big injustice in our country, and for some reason they have decided they will continue to that injustice."
It's 2017 and achieving pay equity should be everyone's goal, whether you identify with the left, or the right, or somewhere in between. So, what are we waiting for?
#GettingTo5050, a global movement rooted in actionable tools and resources, aims to catalyze the conversations that will inspire a more gender-balanced world. Because true equality doesn't just lift women — it lifts everyone. Learn more here.