Senate Again Rejects Proposed “Paycheck Fairness Act”
Here we go again! Congress proposed a bill several years ago that would make it easier for employees to pursue equal pay claims as class actions, titled “The Paycheck Fairness Act”. The President and Democrats argued the bill simply reinforced the concept of equal pay for equal work. Republicans in the Senate rejected the bill for the third time in April 2014, recognizing there are adequate remedies available to female employees who feel they are paid unfairly.
There are two federal laws that already require equal pay for equal work: (1) the Equal Pay Act and (2) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The proposed Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), however, would make it easier for women to pursue disparate pay claims as class actions, and harder for employers to defend themselves against equal pay claims. Many view such results not as a step forward for women,
rather, only as fuel for expensive litigation.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 provides a remedy to women who believe their employers discriminated on the basis of sex in paying wages for equal work on jobs requiring equivalent skill, effort, and responsibility. The Equal Pay Act does not require any showing of intentional discrimination. Where a pay differential exists, the employer must prove one of four statutory affirmative defenses to prevail: a seniority system; a merit system; a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or any other factor other than sex. An employee who proves a violation of the Equal Pay Act may recover unpaid back wages of up to three years.
In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination in all aspects of employment, including the payment of wages, hiring, promotion, and termination. Further, Congress expanded the scope of the Title VII remedy in 2009, with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That law extends the statute of limitations for disparate pay claims under Title VII. In Title VII cases, employees may recover back pay, consisting of the wages, salary and fringe benefits the plaintiff would have earned but for the discrimination, other compensatory damages and punitive damages. The statute provides specific reasonable limits the amounts of such damages, depending on the size of the employer. Prevailing plaintiffs also may recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: English R. Bryant is the Director of Employment Services at Tyson & Mendes LLP. Contact English at 858.263.4115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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