Hiding the Truth About the Pay Gap Between Men and Women

The debate over pay equity is front and center on the Congressional agenda. The first bill signed into law by President Obama, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, overturns a U.S. Supreme Court decision and vastly expands the opportunity to file pay and other discrimination cases. Another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, has already passed the House of Representatives and is likely to be considered by the Senate in the spring.

Paying someone less because of their sex is illegal and two federal laws, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provide the framework whereby victims of pay discrimination can seek redress. However, some argue that these two laws are not effective at eradicating pay discrimination and that the laws must be changed. Central to their argument is the so-called "pay gap," the difference between the average earnings of men and women.

In debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said that today women earn "78 cents for ever dollar that is earned by a man doing the same job with the same responsibilities." Miller then went on to say "if we are serious about closing the gender pay gap, we must get serious about punishing those who would otherwise scoff at the weak sanctions under current law." President Obama expressed similar sentiment as he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law.

To close the wage gap, Miller and his colleagues support punishing violators of the Equal Pay Act with unlimited punitive and compensatory damages. They also seek to make it harder for employers to justify legitimate pay differences, make it easier for trial lawyers to create large class actions lawsuits, and effectively eliminate the statute of limitations for many types of claims, among other things.