Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono today voted in favor of two critical bills that would help end the discriminatory practice of paying men and women different wages for performing the same job. These measures are among the first to be considered and passed by the 111th Congress.
By a vote of 247-171, the House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 11. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reverses a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it significantly harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. The high court ruled that a pay discrimination charge must be filed within 180 days of the employer's initial decision to pay an employee less. The burden of discovering this discriminatory action is on the employee, who is not in a position at the outset to find out about it, as employers do not announce that they are going to engage in pay discrimination.
This bill restores the prior law that states a pay discrimination charge must be filed within 180 days of the issuing of a discriminatory paycheck, not upon the issuance of the first discriminatory paycheck. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would apply to workers who file claims of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability.
"When Lilly Ledbetter came to testify before the Education and Labor Committee in 2007, I was moved by her story of justice denied," Congresswoman Hirono said on the House Floor prior to today's historic vote. "Ms. Ledbetter was deprived of lost wage compensation because she did not know she was being paid less than her male colleagues until many years had passed since her employers made the initial decision to discriminate. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores fairness to any employee who has been paid less than their coworkers."
Congresswoman Hirono also voted in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 12. This bill aims to strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close loopholes that have allowed many employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay. The bill gives women the same legal ability to recover back pay and damages as victims of other types of pay discrimination. It also protects employees who discuss how much they are paid with co-workers from retaliation by their employers. The bill also closes a loophole in the Equal Pay Act that had previously allowed companies to justify unfair pay practices. The House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act by a vote of 256-163.
"Equal pay is not a women's issue. It's a family issue," said Hirono. "As is stands, women in Hawaii earn 69 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work. Closing this vast discrepancy in earnings will help all our families, particularly during these difficult economic times," said Hirono.
Both bills now go before the U.S. Senate for consideration.