In the challenging election season of 2014, the Democrats are pulling out the stops on “equal pay” for women. President Obama issues repeated clarion calls for equal pay for women, as does Hillary Clinton, adding that Republicans are against paying women equally. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, who may just win what was originally regarded as a GOP takeover, has stressed that her opponent has opposed “federal equal pay legislation.”
What's wrong with this? The U.S. already has laws establishing equal pay for women. Do the words cynical political ploy ring in your ears?
In a piece in today's Wall Street Journal that makes many points IWF has made over the years, Gerald Skoning, a labor and employment lawyer in Chicago, writes:
As a campaign issue, demands for pay equity are beside the point. Equal pay for women has been the law of the land for more than a century.
The cornerstone of the Democrats' current campaign is the Paycheck Fairness Act. Skoning writes that the Paycheck Fairness Act is presented as something that would right the wrong of intentional gender discrimination:
The Paycheck Fairness Act instead is meant to address the fact that “on average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns,” as the Obama White House explains on its website. This is not a claim that any woman earns less than any man for the same work. Pay “disparities” between men and women generally reflect other factors such as interrupting a career to raise children, the types of jobs men and women on average choose, the type of education they have (sociology vs. engineering), etc.
Skoning also argues something that the IWF has been saying for years: while the Paycheck Fairness Act would do little to help women, it would be a boon to trial lawyers. The bill “would expand litigation opportunities for class-action lawyers seeking millions of dollars from companies without ever having to prove that the companies intentionally discriminated against women.”
Paying a female worker less than a male worker for the same job has been illegal since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed gender discrimination in pay. Forty-six states have anti-gender discrimination laws on the books. It might be argued that some states are better than others about enforcing these laws. But that is not a situation that requires another law—it would require more assiduous enforcement.
Skoning sums up the situation:
Today, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII provide a woman who prevails on her wage discrimination claim a virtual smorgasbord of effective remedies. They include, but aren’t limited to, back pay, attorneys’ fees, injunctive relief, prejudgment interest, $300,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, an additional $10,000 in penalties, and a prison sentence of up to six months for an employer who willfully violates the law. …
Campaign rhetoric and simplistic election-year sound-bites can and do mislead voters into thinking that gender-based wage discrimination is a national crisis and that women have no recourse whatsoever in the face of invidious pay discrimination by their heartless employers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Several layers of tough federal and state laws protect women from pay discrimination….
So our lawmakers should ask themselves, do we really need another federal statute protecting women’s rights to equal pay? The laws already exist in spades. Those laws contain tough sanctions, generous remedies for violations, and establish powerful government enforcement agencies to pursue offenders.
Vigorous enforcement of the arsenal of tough federal and state laws prohibiting sex discrimination in wages will ensure continued progress toward the important national goal of true equal opportunity, as well as pay equity, for all. The Democrats’ populist campaign mantra about “pay equity” is empty rhetoric.
Like the “war on women” rhetoric in general, the Paycheck Fairness Act is a cynical ploy to get votes from women. At least the Democrats aren’t trying to blame Ebola on the Republicans. Oh, wait…