House Democrats pushed through legislation tonight that would give women new tools to combat pay discrimination. The pay equity bill, which passed by a 247-178 vote, would treat gender discrimination involving pay in the same category as race, disability and age discrimination. It would provide for compensatory and punitive damages, ban employers from retaliating against workers who share their salary with colleagues, and force employers to prove that paying a women less than a man is job-related and necessary.
A study by the UA Faculty Senate documented that the University of Arkansas paid female Assistant Professors about $11,000 per year less than their male colleagues. Chancellor John White failed to address and correct the problem, even after it was called to his attention by AFSCME Local 965. We are hopeful that Chancellor David Gearhart, who assumed office this month, will be committed to ending gender discrimination and achieving pay equity. It has been the law since 1963, and enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act could strengthen the rights of women in the workplace.
"This is a historic step forward in the fight for equal rights for women," said Democratic Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but companies continually have found ways around it. Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro said, "Just because something is illegal, does not mean that it does not continue to happen." The Institute of Women's Policy Research says wage disparity will cost a woman as much as $2 million over her lifetime in lost wages.
Republicans said women did not need additional legal protection, and the legislation would benefit trial lawyers, who could get legal fees when they win pay discrimination cases against corporations. George Bush has threatened to veto the legislation.
The bill passed by 247-178. All 178 voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act were Republicans, including our own Representative John Boozman of Rogers.