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“It’s Not A Myth. It’s Math.” President Obama

April 21, 2014

Erin McGoldrick ’14  Women in Leadership

Women on average earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make, inspiring the holiday Equal Pay Day.  This is an alarming statistic in present day America and has become a hot button topic in politics this April.  Obama recently signed two executive measures with the purpose of assisting in closing the pay difference between men and women.  The executive orders included barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries and an instruction to the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from the Federal contractors.

Pay disparities exist in all areas of the American workforce, whether it be the women making up 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, top actresses in Hollywood or even teachers.  The steps being taken to enforce equal pay have sparked a political debate.  The Democrats, who have more women in the Senate and House, are being seen by Republicans as capitalizing on the gender-gap advantage.  As President Obama pushes for equal pay, it is worth noting that pay disparity even exists in the White House.  Members of the Republic National Committee have been pointing to pay disparity that exists in the offices of several Democrats.  The push for equal pay has brought the faults of Democrats and Republicans into the light in terms of gender-gap and pay-gap.

The proposed legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, was intended to be an extension to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Paycheck Fairness act has three main components, the first being to make wages more transparent.  The second factor is requiring that employers prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications rather than gender.  The third component is to prohibit companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination.  The bill has been brought before Congress in the past, making it passed the House of Representatives but stopped by the Senate.  On April 9, 2014 the Senate Republicans blocked the proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation received immense support from the National Women’s Law Center, stating that requiring employers to give a “factor other than sex” for pay differences prevents the employer from determining pay based on factors that have no relevance to the job being performed.  The act does not prevent employers from giving different salaries based on merit and seniority or quantity and quality of production.

Critics of the Act, such as Daniel Fisher from Forbes magazine, have stated that the “factor other than sex” reasoning would make employers appear discriminatory, when the wage difference may be due to the individual’s salary history and negotiating skills.

Before the Paycheck Fairness Act was shot down, Obama had staged a ceremony where he was introduced by Lilly M. Ledbetter.  Ms. Ledbetter was part of a high profile Supreme Court case in which she sued Goodyear Tire for being paid significantly less than her male colleagues.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that her case had been filed after the statute of limitations.  To date, this deadline for filing a discrimination suit has been changed by Congress and became the first bill signed by President Obama.

The Paycheck Fairness Act ultimately did not make it through the Senate; however, the discussion on equal pay is far from over.  As Senator Barbara Mikulski said, the Paycheck Fairness Act is worth getting emotional over.  The attempt to begin debate on the Act failed 53-44.  All Republicans voted against the cloture motion and all Democrats voted in favor of advancing the bill.  Despite the failure to pass, Mikulski’s comments still ring throughout Congress and the drive to end pay disparity continues to progress.

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