Some members of Congress are already following through on one of last year’s campaign promises: making it easier to sue employers for pay discrimination.
On January 9, the House of Representatives passed two bills to fight pay bias: the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Both bills were introduced last year but met resistance from Congressional Republicans and a veto threat from President Bush. President-elect Barack Obama, on the other hand, supports both measures.
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
The Ledbetter Act would overturn a controversial Supreme Court decision from 2007. Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, after learning she’d been paid less than males working in the same job.
The Court decided against her, because she missed out on the statute of limitations. The Court ruled she had to file her case within 180 days after the discriminatory decision was made — in this case, when she was hired 20 years ago.
The Ledbetter Act would give employees a new 180-day window to sue every time they get paid.
Paycheck Fairness Act
The PFA would eliminate many of the defenses employers now have when employees make pay bias claims. The biggest changes HR needs to watch for:
- Previous jobs don’t matter — Right now, companies can be off the hook for paying a man more than a woman if they show he earned more at a previous job so he was able to negotiate for a higher salary. But the PFA would only allow differences based on job-related factors, such as performance, responsibility, training, education or experience.
- No geographical differences — Under the Equal Pay Act, it’s acceptable for employees at different locations to be paid differently to account for local market conditions. But under the new law, employees would be able to sue based on a comparison with a co-worker located anywhere in the country.
- No more confidential salary info — Right now, companies can classify some salary data as confidential and discipline employees for disclosing it. Under the new law, that would be considered unlawful retaliation.
- Punitive damages — In addition to liability for back pay, companies that violate the Paycheck Fairness Act could be hit with punitive damages.
The bills will likely be voted on by the Senate next week, where experts say they have a good shot of passing with the increased Democratic majority. We’ll keep you posted.