Today the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of the U.S. Senate took up the issue of how to ensure that all women receive equal pay for equal work. The Committee held a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), a bill that will strengthen the federal Equal Pay Act and get at many of the root causes of the persistence of pay disparities.

Half a century after the Equal Pay Act was adopted, the typical woman still earns just 77 cents for each dollar a man earns for full-time work – and the situation is even worse for women of color. A gender wage gap persists even after taking account of factors like education and occupation. Too many women continue to be paid less for doing the same job, and performing it just as well, as a male colleague.

Here are just some of the critical things that the PFA will do to put an end to this discrimination and close the gender wage gap:

  • Many women never find out they are being paid unequally, so they are not able to challenge discrimination. This is no accident – many employers proactively keep their employees in the dark about what others are earning, threating punishment for discussing salaries. The PFA prohibits employers from punishing employees who share salary information with coworkers, which will increase women’s ability to learn about and remedy pay inequities.
  • Employers often try to escape accountability for unequal pay simply by asserting that a man made more at his last job or was more persistent in negotiating his salary. And some courts do not require employers to show that pay disparities are related to business needs, and not masking subtle discrimination. The PFA ensures that employers paying unequal wages have a legitimate business justification.
  • For too many employers, the risk of liability if they are caught paying women less than their male counterparts is simply seen as the cost of doing business because of the limited remedies that are currently available under the Equal Pay Act. The PFA would give women who experience pay discrimination access to a full range of damages – and deter employers from violating the law in the first place.

In today’s hearing the Senate Committee heard about the importance of the PFA from a woman who didn’t learn that she had been paid less than coworkers she supervised until her company filed for bankruptcy, a manager of a small business who has sought to implement pay equity in her company, and a law professor who studies the barriers that women experience when they try to enforce their rights to equal pay under current law.

Let’s hope that this hearing is just the first step toward the long overdue passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

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