This morning, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis hosted a live webcast promoting the passage of and fielding audience questions about the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA).
The webcast, which featured Lilly Ledbetter as cohost, emphasized the current administration’s efforts to eliminate wage discrimination while promoting wage transparency in the workplace, noting that passage of the PFA is now the next in a long series of steps toward wage equality.
The PFA would amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) in numerous ways, including:
- providing for compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the EPA;
- reversing the requirement that employees opt in to class-action EPA lawsuits (instead permitting them to opt out of the suit); and
- prohibiting retaliation against employees who inquire about, discuss, or disclose wage information.
The PFA (S. 182; H.R. 11) was initially introduced in 2008 as a companion to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The bill, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2009, has since been on hold in the Senate. Secretary Solis said she is hopeful that the bill will be taken up again and discussed before the Senate adjourns for the year.
During the webcast, Solis and Ledbetter talked candidly about the ways they feel the PFA will benefit workers across the nation, chiefly focusing on the bill’s antiretaliation measures. Ledbetter noted that the PFA would have given her the right to discuss her wages with coworkers and superiors without fear of retaliation.
Employer groups and other critics of the bill have expressed particular concern over the Act’s provisions allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover compensatory and punitive damages. Opponents also note that the lack of damage caps in the bill could leave small businesses open to potentially crippling penalties.
Further, the bill’s opponents question whether the bill could have the unintended consequence of actually lessening pay for performance by forcing employers to operate their businesses more defensively and in anticipation of costly and time-consuming litigation.
Learn more about discrimination with the Mastering HR: Discrimination report
Holly Jones, Managing Attorney Editor at BLR, has written and edited countless alerts, articles, newsletters, and manuals on various topics of labor and employment law. She is the editor of HR Guide to Employment Law: A Practical Compliance Reference, Fifty Employment Laws in Fifty States, and Employers State Law Alert, and she also serves as MLSP's in-house wage and hour expert, managing related products such as Wage & Hour Compliance: Practical Solutions for HR. Holly is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and a licensed attorney in the state of Tennessee.