Paycheck Fairness Proves Political Football

Business dodged a bullet recently when the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to get enough votes to get to a GOP filibuster. But it was never really about the bill and all about staging a campaign pitch.

June 7 2012 by JP Donlon


Business dodged a bullet recently when the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to get enough votes to get to a GOP filibuster. But it was never really about the bill and all about staging a campaign pitch.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would offer several additional protections for women in the workplace, including an increased ability to pursue punitive damages for unequal pay claims; prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about payment practices or who disclose their own salaries; and require businesses to prove that differences in pay between genders were rooted in business requirements. In reality bringing the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor was a Democratic ploy to put GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the defensive with women voters.

Republicans maintained that the bill would merely open the doors to more frivolous litigation against employers and would actually have the perverse effect of chilling new hiring at the margin. Besides there are laws on the books going back to 1963 that outlaw discriminatory hiring against women for gender and unequal pay for the same job.

In opposition the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “This bill would, among other things, expand remedies under EPA to include unlimited punitive and compensatory damages, significantly erode employer defenses for legitimate pay disparities, and impose invalid tools for enforcement by the Labor Department.”

Ironically, Democrats in the Senate who made the most noise about the bill were found to pay their female staffers 18 percent less than their male counterparts. Much was made of the so-called pay differentials where it is alleged that women earn 77 percent of what men earn. There is no mention of the fact that women choose different professions for different reasons and many elect to leave the workplace to raise families, which skew the data.

As Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “an analysis of more than 50 peer-reviewed papers, commissioned by the Labor Department, found that the so-called wage gap is mostly, and perhaps entirely, an artifact of the different choices men and women make—different fields of study, different professions, different balances between home and work.”