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Public Statements

Paycheck Fairness Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HELLER. Mr. President, I rise today in support of equal pay for equal work. The importance of women in the workplace is clear to every American. We all have women in families who have been a proud part of the workforce. For two decades my mother worked hard in a school cafeteria. My wife, a substitute teacher, has long been part of Nevada's workforce. My oldest daughter, in this economy, was fortunate enough to get a job after graduating from college just a few years ago. My youngest daughter, 16, recently got a summer job at a local food lot. Sixty percent of my Senate staff is female.

America is a land of opportunity, and Americans are equally united against discrimination in any form. If my mother, my wife, or my daughters experienced workplace discrimination based on their gender, I would be the first to come to their defense and ensure any inequities were addressed.

Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 to ensure every individual received equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. It is a strict liability statute that requires evidence of intent to discriminate. If there is evidence of intentional discrimination, appropriate remedies, including punitive and compensatory damages are available under the Civil Rights Act.

Let me be clear: Pay discrimination based upon gender is unacceptable. Despite the political rhetoric around here, everyone agrees on this fact.

The question is, Will the Paycheck Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? The simple answer is no. Unfortunately, the only winners under this legislation would be trial lawyers, giving them a windfall, exposing employers to unlimited punitive damages.

This legislation opens the door to frivolous lawsuits which already cost our economy billions of dollars every year. Legitimate cases that could be addressed under the current system would be lost in a flood of lawsuits initiated by lawyers hoping to win a few large judgments.

These lawsuits, if successful, could transfer billions of dollars from employers to trial lawyers. In an economy already marked by uncertainty, this legislation would surely mean lost jobs, limitations on benefits, and pay cuts. These changes would mean much harder times ahead for Nevada's unemployed and underemployed, so many of whom are women.

Instead of a trial lawyer bailout, let's address the issue of equal pay. Instead of holding votes designed for press releases, let's actually work to solve our Nation's problems. Congress can strengthen the Equal Pay Act without handing trial lawyers a blank check.

The Wall Street Journal today referred to this legislation as ``a trial lawyer doozy just in time for the 2012 election ads.'' It goes on to say the bill ought to be called the ``Trial Lawyer Paycheck Act,'' since it is a recipe for a class action boom. The law automatically lists women as plaintiffs in class actions when lawyers sue employers, thereby requiring female employees to opt out of litigation with which they do not agree.

Businesses would be treated as guilty until they are shown to be innocent. You cannot be projobs and antibusiness. This is just another example of the Democrats' war on free enterprise while Americans suffer with joblessness and underemployment.

In fact, under this President there are 766,000 more women unemployed today than when he took office. I truly wish today's discussion was about leveling the playing field, truly ensuring pay equality and improving the economy. But years-old legislation mired in politics will not get us any closer to either ending gender discrimination in the workplace or ensuring that all women who want a job have a job.

This proposal could not pass when Democrats controlled both Chambers of Congress. Yet here we are today voting on the same measure again and again. Those who are actually victims of workplace discrimination are only getting lipservice from Washington. Like many of my colleagues, I worry about this proposal that will only increase litigation and do little to actually address the problems of pay inequality.

Advancements in pay parity have been made, but more needs to be done. Congress would better serve the hard-working women of our Nation if we focused on solutions that have actually worked. To this end, I have introduced the End Pay Discrimination Through Information Act. This legislation would protect employees who are trying to determine whether they are experiencing pay discrimination.

No one in this body should be so naive to say that pay discrimination has been eradicated. What we need to do is ensure that employees can find the information they need to determine whether they have a legitimate claim against their employer. The End Pay Discrimination Through Information Act provides antiretaliation and whistleblower protections which both sides should be able to agree upon. My legislation is a solution within the existing framework of our legal system that does not provide a handout to trial lawyers as the underlying bill would do. My bill also recognizes the role of women in America's workforce and the fact that an increasing number of U.S. households depend upon the income of working women.

My legislation states that ``equal pay for equal work is a principle and practice that should be observed by all employers.'' Every day working women are going above and beyond, balancing their responsibilities at home and at work to provide for their families. The least we can do is ensure that employers who intentionally discriminate on the basis of sex should be held accountable for their wrongdoing.

I believe my bill is a reasonable bipartisan step in the right direction. Instead of bringing up legislation that has failed in the past and will in the future, this Congress needs to give our Nation the economic certainty needed to create good-paying jobs so hard-working women across this country will be able to provide for their families and achieve the career successes they deserve.

I yield the floor.


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