H.R. 7: The Paycheck Fairness Act

More than 55 years after the 1963 Equal Pay Act became law, women’s economic security is still threatened by a punishing and substantial gender-based wage gap in virtually every industry and at every education level. Here’s what we can do about it.

The Gender Wage Gap: It’s Real

The causes of the wage gap are complex, but the simple truth is that women in the United States today who work full-time, year-round are typically paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. This wage disparity is even worse for women of color; among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs, Asian women are paid 85 cents, Black women 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents, and Latinas just 53 cents for every dollar paid to white men. In 2018, a wage gap existed in every state in the country and in all but a small fraction of congressional districts.

The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But that bill was only a small step: it simply extended the statute of limitations on Equal Pay Act claims, which means that victims of discrimination have access to courts for a longer period of time to pursue their claims. Many of the deeper causes of the wage gap, which are rooted in employment law, went unaddressed in Lilly Ledbetter. And since that small step, Congress has done nothing to address equal pay.

What the Paycheck Fairness Act Would Do

The bill is intended to address some of the root causes of the gender wage gap. It would:

  • Make it safe for co-workers to discuss their wages. Most people who are being paid unfairly don’t know it until discriminatory pay practices come to light during an informal conversation with a coworker. The problem? Employers can retaliate against workers for discussing compensation, and workers can be made to sign non-disclosure agreements that prohibit them from discussing their pay with co-workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act would make these practices, which enforce pay secrecy and entrench discrimination, illegal.

  • Take salary history out of the application process. Women are typically paid lower wages than men, even in their first jobs. Salary disparities that begin early in a woman’s career can follow her from job to job when employers base a new hire’s salary on her prior salary. That’s why this bill would prohibit employers from screening job applicants based on their salary history, or from requiring applicants to disclose their salary history during the interview process.

  • Make it harder for employers to justify pay discrimination. Similarly situated workers in the same company, who do the same job and have the same years of experience, education, and training should be paid the same. Currently, however, employers are able to explain away differences in pay too easily by relying on a catch-all defense in the Equal Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close that loophole and require employers to prove that any differences in pay are not sex-based, are job-related with respect to the position in question, are consistent with business necessity, and account for the entire difference in compensation.

  • Allow workers alleging pay discrimination to band together. Individual workers who are paid low wages and learn that they are victims of pay discrimination may not be able to find a lawyer willing to take their case, or may have financial resources that are too limited to pursue a claim. The Paycheck Fairness Act would clarify that workers alleging pay discrimination have the right to go to court together to pursue their claims against their employer.

What you can do

With Democrats back in control, we have a real opportunity to make sure this passes out of the House. It likely won’t get consideration in the Senate during this Congress—but passage in the House makes an important statement that equal pay for equal work is a core value that progressives will continue to prioritize.

The good news? Every single Democrat in the House is a cosponsor. That’s great! But this is more than just a matter of checking that box. We need the bill to move. Check to see if your House member is on the Education and Labor Committee (check the membership here). If so, ask them to push for a mark-up of the bill in the next few weeks. The House has an opportunity to commemorate Equal Pay Day on April 2—the day in 2019 that a woman must work until to match a man’s 2018 earnings—with passage in the House, but only if they make this a priority.

Sample Call Scripts

Hello, I’m a constituent calling from [CITY]. I’m asking [MoC] to cosponsor H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Women in the United States today who work full-time, year-round are typically paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. This wage disparity is even worse for women of color. Under current law, it’s too easy for employers to get away with pay discrimination. That’s why we need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

For Democrats on the Education and Labor Committee (list of members here)

Will [MoC] push for a mark-up of H.R. 7 in the next few weeks?

For Republican House Members

Will you co-sponsor H.R. 7?

This resource was prepared in partnership with our friends at the National Partnership for Women & Families.