The Obama administration recently announced its support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would make it easier for women who make less than their male co-workers to sue employers on basis of pay discrimination. The bill sat around in Congress for years and, in 2007, then- President Bush threatened to veto it. The House of Representatives gave the bill the green light in 2009; now it’s up to the Senate to do the same and end gender- based pay disparities as we know them.
Currently, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man doing the same job earns. The gap is even wider for women of color. These pay disparities mean women will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of their careers and, according to the president, could affect whether or not they will be able to afford their child’s college tuition or if they will have enough money saved to eventually retire on.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, if passed, will allow gender-based wage discrimination to be seen in the same light as other forms of discrimination. Women would be able to sue not only for back pay but also damages. If passed, the law will also limit the ways companies can legitimize pay disparities and it will prohibit them from punishing or firing employees who discuss their salaries.
In addition to announcing its support of the bill, the Obama administration also vows to get a better grip on just how far-reaching wage discrimination is by improving the way it collects data from businesses. Additionally, the administration promises to practice what it preaches by closing the wage gap among federal employees.
Of course, the bill faces opposition—mainly from Republican leaders and business groups who say legislation will only clog up the courts and make it harder for companies to hire. Neither of these concerns are valid reasons to continue to deny women who do the same work at the same quality as a man the basic right to earn equal pay.
All types of discrimination—whether they are based on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation—must be fought. Fighting it in the courts has been very effective in helping to chip away at race based discrimination of all types. If passed, the Paycheck Fairness Act opens the door for women to use the legal system to fight for their basic rights as workers.
To contact your U.S. senators and ask that they support this bill, visit http://www.senate.gov/.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)