On March 27, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act addressing the gender pay gap by bolstering the Equal Pay Act. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, would protect employees from pay discrimination and hold employers accountable for pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Among other changes, the Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit employment policies or practices that bar employees from discussing their salaries, and it would increase penalties for violations of the Equal Pay Act.

The Past and Present: Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act bans pay discrepancies between men and women who hold substantially the same jobs unless wages are based on seniority, merit, quality or quality of work, or any factor other than sex. An employer may use any of those four factors as a defense against claims of wage discrimination. As noted in the findings of Congress in the Paycheck Fairness Act, gender-based wage discrimination still persists, undermining women’s financial security and burdening the progress of commerce.

The Future: Paycheck Fairness Act

Rep. DeLauro first introduced the bill in 1997, which would: 

  1. Prohibit retaliation against employees who discuss their salaries with other employees.
  2. Prohibit employers from using an applicant’s prior salary as a mechanism for setting salaries; prohibit employers from requesting salary history from applicants or previous employers (although salary history may be used as part of negotiations following a job offer).
  3. Require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to gather compensation data from employees based on sex, race, and national origin to track discriminatory patterns or practices.
  4. Require the Department of Labor to inform and incentivize employers to make efforts to eliminate the pay gap between the sexes. Enhance the current penalties to add compensatory damages and punitive damages (these are the same remedies available for other civil rights violations).

What’s Next

The House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act and now it goes to the Senate for a vote. With a historic number of women in the Senate and the momentum of the #MeToo Movement, the bill has a chance to move beyond the Senate. If the Senate passes the Act, then it goes to the President before becoming law.

Stay tuned for other exciting labor and employment news!