WASHINGTON, D.C. | January 9, 2009
Discrimination in the workplace is wrong. Paying women lower wages for the same work is wrong. It’s also illegal.
Congress enacted protections to ensure equal pay for equal work in 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was added to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Congress acted again to protect women and all Americans from workplace discrimination with enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Together these laws offer women strong protections against workplace discrimination, and strong remedies should they be subject to illegal employment practices.
Yet we’re here today debating a bill that has been touted as necessary to protect women from being underpaid. Supporters of the bill would have you believe that unless this legislation is enacted, employers are free to pay women less money for doing the same job as their male counterparts.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
This bill isn’t needed to protect women from wage discrimination. Such protections are already included in the law. No, this bill is about something entirely different.
Rather than addressing the real concerns of working families – issues like job training, health care, or a lack of workplace flexibility – this bill invites more and costlier lawsuits.
The bill opens EPA claims to unlimited compensatory and punitive damages for the first time ever. The majority offered an amendment last year that attempts to mask this trial lawyer boondoggle. But make no mistake about it, at the end of the day this bill will invite more lawyers to bring more lawsuits because it offers them the promise of a bigger payday.
H.R. 12 will breed litigation in other ways as well, from encouraging class action lawsuits to expanding liability.
I am also concerned that this bill has been put forward using misleading claims to justify its dangerous consequences. One statistic that is often repeated is that women earn just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Madam Speaker, if a woman earned 77 cents on the dollar doing the same job as a male counterpart, it would be a travesty – and it would be illegal.
What supporters of this bill won’t tell you is that the 77 percent figure does not compare one woman and one man, equally situated, doing the same job. To argue that a woman only makes 77 cents on the dollar doing the same work as her male counterpart is to distort reality. The 77 percent figure is based on 2005 Census data, looking at median earnings of all women and men who work at least 35 hours per week. Interestingly, if you look at 2006 data from the U.S. Department of Labor comparing men and women who work 40 hours per week, women actually earn 88 cents on the dollar.
The wage gap is much narrower. But the existence of a gap is still troubling.
However, in the 110th Congress the Education and Labor Committee heard testimony that cited an article published in The American Economic Review, which found that when data on demographics, education, scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, and work experience are added, the wage ratio rises to 91.4 percent. The addition of variables measuring workplace and occupational characteristics, as well as child-related factors, causes the wage ratio to rise to 95.1 percent. When the percentage female in the occupation is added, the wage ratio becomes 97.5 percent, a far less significant difference.
In another study, researchers from the University of Chicago and Cornell University found almost no difference in the pay of male and female top corporate executives when accounting for size of firm, position in the company, age, seniority, and experience.
So before we use the 77 percent figure to justify new legal “gotchas,” I think we need a better understanding of the scope of any actual pay disparity, and why such a disparity exists.
Madam Speaker, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: discrimination in the workplace is wrong. Equal pay for equal work was the right principle when it became law in 1963, and it is still right today.
The bill before us is not about ensuring equal pay for equal work, and it doesn’t offer working women any protections they don’t already enjoy. Just look at the plain text of the legislation. This bill is about more and costlier lawsuits. Madam Speaker, I am strongly opposed to this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to join me in voting no. I reserve the balance of my time.
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