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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton Commemorates Equal Pay Day by Introducing Bill to Protect Women from Wage Discrimination in Gender-Based Jobs

Apr 4, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who enforced the 1963 Equal Pay Act (EPA) as a former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, today introduced the Fair Pay Act of 2017 (FPA), to help eliminate the gender wage gap by requiring men and women doing comparable work to be paid comparable wages.  Unlike the EPA, the FPA would allow women to prove that some or all of their wage disparity is gender-based where jobs are comparable but not identical to men’s jobs.  Norton introduced her bill today on Equal Pay Day, which marks the day of the year a woman on average has to work to earn what a man earned by the end of last year.  She is also an original cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced today by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).  That bill updates the EPA by allowing class actions, permitting employees to share information about work without retaliation by employers, and, in other ways, conforming the EPA to procedures reflected in other civil rights statutes.  Later this Congress, Norton will re-introduce her bill to reduce the gender and racial pay gap by prohibiting employers from asking prospective or current employees for their salary history before making a job or salary offer.

“Every year on Equal Pay Day, we are reminded how far we have to go to close the gender wage gap, perhaps the greatest issue facing working women today,” Norton said.  “As a minimum first step, Congress must provide much-needed updates and reforms to the Equal Pay Act.  My bill, the Fair Pay Act, would further help close the gender wage gap by making employers truly provide equal pay for equal work.”

Norton’s introductory statement is below.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

On the Introduction of the Fair Pay Act of 2017

April 4, 2017

Ms. Norton. Mr. Speaker,

Today is Equal Pay Day, which marks the number of additional days a woman must work to earn what a man earned by the end of last year.  The 1963 Equal Pay Act (EPA), the first of the great civil rights statutes of the 1960s, has grown creaky with age and needs updating to reflect the new workforce, in which women work almost as much as men.

The best case for a stronger and updated EPA occurred here in the Congress in 2003, when female custodians in the House and Senate won an EPA case after showing that female workers were paid a dollar less per hour for doing the same or similar work as men.  Had these women not been represented by their union, they would have had an almost impossible task in using the rules for bringing and sustaining an EPA class action suit. 

Based on my own experience as the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I again introduce the Fair Pay Act (FPA) on behalf of the average female worker, who is often first steered to, and then locked into, jobs with wages that are deeply influenced by the gender of women who have traditionally held such jobs.  Much of the wage inequality women experience today is because of employer-steering and deeply rooted wage stereotypes, which result in wages being paid according to gender and not according to the skill necessary to do the job.  I introduce the FPA because pay disparity most women face today stems mainly from the segregation of women and men in different jobs and paying women in female-dominated jobs systematically less.  Two-thirds of white women and three quarters of African-American women work in just three areas: sales/clerical, service and factories.  We need more aggressive strategies to break through the societal barriers present throughout history the world over, as well as employer-steering based on gender, which is as old as paid employment itself.

The FPA requires that if men and women are doing comparable work, they are to be paid comparable wages.  If a woman, for example, is an emergency services operator, a female-dominated profession, she should not be paid less than a fire dispatcher, a male-dominated profession, simply because each of these jobs has been dominated by one sex.  If a woman is a social worker, a traditionally female occupation, she should not earn less than a probation officer, a traditionally male job, simply because of the gender associated with each of these jobs.

The FPA, like the EPA, will not tamper with the legal burden.  Under the FPA, as under the EPA, the burden will be on the plaintiff to prove discrimination.  The plaintiff must show that the reason for the disparate treatment is gender discrimination, not legitimate market factors. 

Remedies to achieve comparable pay for men and women are not radical or unprecedented.  State governments, in red and blue states alike, have shown that it is possible to eliminate the part of the pay gap that is due to discrimination.  Twenty states have adjusted wages for female-dominated professions, raising pay for teachers, nurses, clerical workers, librarians, and other female-dominated jobs that paid less than comparable male-dominated jobs.  Minnesota, for example, implemented a pay equity plan when it found that traditionally female jobs paid 20 percent less than comparable traditionally male jobs.  There may well be some portion of a gender wage gap that is traceable to market factors, but 20 states have shown that you can tackle the gender discrimination-based wage gap without interfering in the market system.  States generally have closed the wage gap over a period of four to five years at a one-time cost of no more than three to four percent of payroll.

In addition, many female workers routinely achieve pay equity through collective bargaining, and countless employers provide it on their own as they see women shifting out of vital female-dominated occupations as a result of the shortage of skilled workers, as well as because of the unfairness to women.  Unequal pay has been built into the way women have been treated since Adam and Eve.  To dislodge such deep-seated and pervasive treatment, we must go to the source, the traditionally female occupations, where pay is linked with gender and always has been.