women's pay inequalityFor decades, the question of why women are paid less than men has vexed political and business leaders. Now, as the midterm elections loom, the debate about this issue is heating up in the U.S. Senate over the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA).

Among other things, the bill would make it easier for women who allege discrimination to file class actions against their employers. It also removes caps on punitive damages under the Equal Pay Act. The bill passed the House last year.

Both the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who's facing a tough reelection battle, support PFA. Republicans and business interest are against it, alleging it would open employers to needless lawsuits. The bill's backers say that claim is baseless.

"There is really strong support for it," says Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, in an interview. She describes the changes proposed by PFA as modest. "Think of the middle-class families who are struggling," she says.

Up to $2 Million Less Over a Lifetime

Women, who are either the sole or co-breadwinner for about two thirds of U.S. households, earn $11,000 a year less than men annually because they make less than men who do the same work, according to NOW. That disparity equals $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime. A report released today by the Government Accountability Office bolsters that argument, finding that female managers earn 81 cents for every dollar that a man earns. That represents progress from seven years ago when the figure was 79 cents.

The GAO also found that women held 40% of management jobs in 2007, compared to 39% in 2000. Traditionally male bastions such as Wall Street also continue having difficulty retaining women. And female MBAs earn $4,600 less than male MBAs during their first year out of business school, according to a recent survey by Catalyst cited by Newsweek.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett recently said the PFA affords "common sense" protections to workers. Under the bill, employers would be required to prove in court that factors other than sex accounted for wage differences. Critics, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, say the bill is the last thing businesses need in a struggling economy.

"And really, you can't be for 'jobs' -- that is, new hiring and a lower unemployment rate -- and seriously support the bill," writes Carter Wood on NAM's Shopfloor website. "The additional rules and legal liability the bill would create would substantially raise the marginal costs of every new hire."

"There Will Be More Litigation"

In an interview, Jane McFetridge, managing partner of the Chicago law office of Jackson Lewis, says the law would be good for her business -- and that's not a good thing because that would mean more lawsuits get filed.

"I will be busier than I ever have been before," says McFetridge, who represents employers in discrimination cases and testified against PFA before Congress. "Whether it's meritorious or not, litigation is expensive. . . . There will be more litigation of this nature" if the law is passed.

Sometimes such cases have no clear good guys or bad guys. Many of the executives who deal with these claims in areas such as human resources also happen to be women, according to McFetridge. "There's a ton of legal redress right now" in state and local courts, she says.

In an editorial today, The Washington Post argues that though well-intentioned, the law is flawed because it "would allow employees and courts to intrude too far into core business decisions." The debate will rage on for a while longer. Says a spokesperson for Senator Reid: "This is on a list of possible items that could come up when we return after the elections."

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Glen

It truly is a shame that in 2010 there are still disparities in pay between men and women in the corporate world. The Federal government pays everyone equally so why doesn't everyone else? I am definitely in favor of legislation that equalizes pay for everyone for the same work. However, I'm not in favor of everyone getting the same pay regardless of what they do, which is Socialism/Marxism and seems to be the agenda of the left right now. I'm guessing the Republicans are seeing that type of language in the bill and that's what they're objecting to.

September 30 2010 at 8:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony

EQUAL PAY IS THE RIGHT OF EVERY AMERICAN WORKER....WHAT IS UNFAIR IS THAT IT MUST BE MET WITH EQUAL WORK...I WORKED FOR AN AIRLINE FOR 40 YEARS AND WATCHED TIME AND TIME AGAIN, MEN GET ASSIGNED JOBS THAT WERE CONSIDERED TO DIFFICULT FOR WOMEN...LIKE LIFTING LUGGAGE...SO THE MALES DID THE WORK WHILE THE FEMALES MADE SURE THEY DID NOT DAMAGE THEIR MANICURE...WHAT BULLSHIT...EQUAL PAY MEANS EQUAL WORK...IF YOU CANT DO THE JOB YOU SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO GET PAID FOR IT EITHER....

September 30 2010 at 6:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nnick12aa

This equal pay thing is the most stupid thing I have heard of in a long time! How can you have equal pay based on gender, age or anything not related to performance, I can understand this situation if a job is listed as Salary, women $25,000. men $30,000., otherwise this feminist charge has absolutely no merit and is designed to force a company to pay a less qualified woman a salary equal to a more qualified male in the same position. I suppose this is womens rights and affirmative action. Wakeup world to what is going on around you! If men support this issue they deserve to be whipped daily by a feminist and salt rubbed in their wounds.

September 30 2010 at 5:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

My wife better get into her berka if she knows what's good for her.

September 30 2010 at 5:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NO1CHEF99

My wife works for a major pet store chain, filed an EEOC complain 3 years ago with over 100 pgs of proof finally got back the results - sorry you have this problem FEDS won't help hire an attorney you now have 90 days. Next she gets transfered to a new city and all of a sudden is loved by the management and is found to be a "wonderful employee" and promoted to assitant store mananger! Only to find out 6 months later that ALL new hires to the store (all of which are males) have been hired at $3.75 more per hour than her - and they were just clerks and she is a mananger!! Now she complains to the District Mananger and gets a raise $3.50 per hour ~~ but nothing for the last 6 months in back pay she has lost. Response from corp headquarters ~~ we don't pay retro raises. YOU ARE RIGHT WOMEN DON'T GET FAIR PAY only good factor is that she is due for a review and a new "pay grade increase" in a month and hopes to get caught up....maybe

September 30 2010 at 12:52 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to NO1CHEF99's comment
Harriet

Equal pay my butt, women should not only get equal pay but should be able to officially retire at the age of 55. Not only are we working, we take care of everybody. You marry you care for your husband then along comes the children and you take care of them, take care of hubby, the house, his parents, your parents, your job and every menial job that hubby doesn't do. Your entire life is lived as a caregiver. early retirement is better, full benefits at the age of 55!

September 30 2010 at 12:30 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to Harriet's comment
annie56091

Women generally get equal pay. I do see where it isn't fair for a company to spend money training and they leave to start a family.

September 30 2010 at 12:26 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
falconsso

Looks like more women should join the military. Lady GaGa did. ALWAYS equal pay.

September 30 2010 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jdrumerrnr

Another is subsidies of U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. House of Representatives approved yesterday a proposal by Representative Kathy Dahlkemper, a Pennsylvania Democrat, that would set up a research and development program at the Department of Energy to help U.S. rare-earth manufacturers such as Molycorp with measures including loan guarantees. To become law the bill, which cleared the House on a 325-98 vote, must have a matching Senate version and be signed by the president. Currently there is no such measure.

September 30 2010 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
falconsso

BREAKING NEWS. Lady GaGa enlists for four years into the U.S. Marines

September 30 2010 at 12:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply