For the second time in less than a month, a House committee is working on legislation to address pay disparities between women and men in the workplace.
On Wednesday, July 11, the House Subcommittee on Worker Protections held a hearing to examine H.R. 1338, the "Paycheck Fairness Act," introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The legislation would amend the Equal Pay Act by restricting the ability of employers to defend a pay disparity "based on a bona fide factor other than sex." Among its provisions, the bill would make workers responsible to "opt out" of class-action pay discrimination suits, rather than choosing to "opt in." Also, the legislation carries new non-retaliation requirements and increased penalties against employers.
The "Paycheck Fairness Act" hearing comes on the heels of the House Education and Labor Committee's contentious approval of H.R. 2831, the "Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007" on June 27. That legislation would effectively overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's May decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which the Court held that, in compensation cases, a discriminatory action cannot be the mere issuance of a paycheck to a worker, but rather the management decision to set a worker's rate of compensation.
This is significant because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides up to 300 days for a worker to file a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). H.R. 2831 would change Title VII so that each successive paycheck a worker receives would restart the clock for filing a claim with the EEOC, and thus, would fundamentally alter the statute of limitations for bringing pay discrimination suits. In this way, the "Ledbetter" bill could force employers to defend discrimination claims many years, and even decades, after an alleged unequal pay action took place.
Questions and comments about either of these bills should be directed to Michael Layman, SHRM's Manager of Labor and Employment Legislation.