Four years ago today, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – a law that restored pay discrimination victims’ right to have their day in court. It was the first bill the president signed into law, and it has allowed women across the country to challenge unlawful discrimination when they receive a discriminatory paycheck.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a critical and necessary step to help combat pay discrimination. But much more remains to be done to help prevent the discriminatory practices that contribute to a wage gap that costs women, on average, 23 cents for every dollar paid to men. Fortunately, there are concrete proposals that Congress and the Obama administration can – and should – advance right away.
Legislation like the Fair Pay Act, which was introduced today by Senator Tom Harkin (D – Iowa) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – D.C.), would help to ensure equal pay for those who hold jobs that require comparable abilities, knowledge and skills. The bill is modeled on similar laws already on the books in a number of states.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced last week by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D – Md.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.), would also help reduce the wage gap. One critical provision would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing pay. Nearly half of the workforce is currently prohibited or discouraged from talking about pay with their coworkers, making it nearly impossible to identify and challenge discriminatory practices – and giving employers little incentive to comply with the law.
Lilly Ledbetter’s own experience provides a classic example. After working for 19 years as a supervisor at a Goodyear tire factory where there was a policy that prohibited employees from discussing their pay, she received an anonymous note telling her she was being paid less than her male coworkers with the same job. Goodyear’s policy allowed for discrimination with impunity.
If we are going to eradicate pay discrimination in this country, workers need to be able to discuss their pay without fear of losing their jobs. That is why, in addition to supporting critical legislation, we are calling on President Obama to address pay discrimination by issuing an executive order that ensures that employees of federal contractors can discuss pay without retaliation.
The federal government has an obligation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to perpetuate unlawful pay discrimination. And the president made a point of including equal pay in the vision for the future of America he laid out in his inaugural speech last week.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act marked an important step on the road to fair pay. With an executive order, the administration should take the next step toward an economically secure future for America’s women and their families.