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Paycheck Fairness Act

In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, women made less than 60 cents for every dollar a male worker made. Despite efforts to address the issue, pay disparity among men and women has remained a problem. Though the data shows that some progress has been made, it also shows there is still a ways left to go. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, women on average earned 77 cents for every dollar their full-time male counterparts made in 2009.

Even those who have sought out higher education suffer from a lack of pay equity. A survey by Catalyst cited in Newsweek found that female MBA graduates earned over $4,500 less in their first job out of business school than male graduates.

Nearly two years ago, the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) was introduced to better address and eliminate wage differences between men and women. According to the Congressional Research Service summary, the bill would amend the Equal Pay Act, portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The PFA would revise enforcement measures, remedies and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages.

The bill has the support of The White House and President Obama has called it a “common sense bill.” Though the bill passed the House by a 256 to 163 margin, it is in danger of dying in the Senate.

The House passed its version of the PFA in January of 2009. The companion bill in the Senate has been stalled in the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee since that time. The bill was reintroduced in mid-September with sponsors hoping action would be taken before the midterm elections.

According to the USA Today, the bill would accomplish three major goals:

  • Limit reasons employers could give for differences in pay
  • Prevent employers from retaliating against employees who discuss wages
  • Allow women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages, as opposed to only back pay

The act would also strengthen penalties for violations of equal pay provisions, fund and train Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) staff to better identify and handle wage claim disputes and allow wage comparisons between men and women within clearly defined geographic areas.

The PFA was introduced shortly after the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed by Congress, which clarified the statute of limitations periods for wage discrimination claims.

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