© National Committee
on Pay Equity
Equal Pay Day



Legislative Background

Working women want equal pay — and legislators are listening. In Congress and state legislatures, initiatives are underway to beef up equal pay enforcement and strengthen protections against wage discrimination. Examples include:

Equal Pay Action in Congress. . .

The Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Senator Mikulski and Representative DeLauro, strengthens penalties courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers' wage practices. The bill provides for compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to back pay, for women denied equal pay for equal work; authorizes class action equal pay suits; and directs the U.S. Department of Labor to provide public information about strategies for identifying and eliminating wage discrimination, and to issue guidelines for evaluating jobs. The Paycheck Fairness Act was passed by the House of Representatives on January 9, 2009, but was defeated on a procedural vote in the Senate on November 17, 2010.

The Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Senator Harkin and Representative Norton, would prohibit wage discrimination based on sex, race and national origin by requiring employers to provide equal pay for work of equal value, whether or not the jobs are the same. The bill would also ban retaliation and require employers to file wage information annually with the EEOC.

. . . And in the States

Many states are expected to introduce equal pay legislation. State legislators from California to Georgia and New York are working in bipartisanship.

The state equal pay bills can generally be grouped into three categories:

  • Bills that prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and national origin (and religion and ancestry in some cases);
  • Bills that enhance current legislation by allowing workers to sue for punitive and compensatory damages; and
  • Bills that establish a commission to study the wage gap and recommend solutions.

Legislators, with the help of dynamic local organizations including women's, labor, and civil rights groups, celebrated victories, including:

  • Illinois. In May 2004, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed the Equal Pay Act of 2003, which provides that no employer may pay wages solely on the basis of the employee's gender and expands the federal Equal Pay Act to cover employers with four or more employees.
  • Wyoming. In 2001, Governor Jim Geringer signed into law H.B. 239, sponsored by Representative Floyd Esquibel. H.B. 239 enhances current legislation by modifying gender-specific provisions and providing hearing procedures for violations of employment provisions regarding comparable worth.
  • Maine. In 2001, after years of effort by equal pay advocates, the State of Maine enacted equal pay rules in accordance with a state law passed in 1966.
  • Vermont. Equal Pay for Equal Work (S. 102) was signed into law just weeks after Equal Pay Day 2002. This law incorporates the provisions of the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 into Vermont's employment law and makes it easier to file wage discrimination claims.