The Equal Pay Act: What Has It (Really) Achieved?

October 10, 2016

Gender Gap

The first bill President Obama ever signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. The law amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It clarified the statute of limitations on bringing a claim of wage discrimination. Before the passing of the law and according to a 2007 Supreme Court case, the statute of limitations began when the wage discrimination began (presumably when a woman started her job). This meant that by the time a woman learned of the wage disparity, the statute of limitations may have already been fulfilled.

Seven years after the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, Apple announced it had achieved equal pay. Twenty eight other companies have signed an Equal Pay Pledge pushed by the Obama administration. The White House continues to promote the Paycheck Fairness Act to further bolster the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act (though Congress has not yet passed it into law). Finally, the EEOC has revised its rules to address pay inequality.

Many wonder: has the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act (and the lawsuits it enables) been integral to the steps that have been taken? Or have we public pressure and public opinion to thank for recent achievements?

The Obama Administration has made a point to increase public pressure on companies to make sure pay inequality is a thing of the past. And, certainly, the Federal law and pressure from the Federal government is not the only factor. Many states have passed their own equal pay laws, including Georgia which passed its law in 2010.

Women in Georgia make just 83% of what men make, costing them upwards of $8,000 a year. And the gap is worse when white men are compared to women of color. With the Paycheck Fairness Act still waiting in the wings of Congress, equal pay has become fodder for the current election. Most politicians say they support equal pay, but only some actually work toward achieving the goal.

Women across the country are faced with wage disparities from their male peers. Laws like Georgia’s and the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act give women an avenue to rectify the harm done by years of wage inequality that can cost women millions over the course of their lives. The good news for employees is that the Equal Pay Act places the burden of explaning a discriminatory pay practice on the employer. An employer must prove that the reason for its decision to pay a woman less than a similary placed man was based on factors other than gender. If they cannot, then they are liable to pay damages equal to the pay differential, liquidated damages, costs and attorneys fees.

On August 26, 2016, President Obama made a proclamation recognizing Women’s Equality Day where he stated, “for generations of women to come, we must keep building a more equal America.” Steadfast enforcement of the Title VII and the Equal Pay Act is necessary to combat wage discrimination based on gender.

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