President Obama, at a White House ceremony last week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, said new legislation is needed to close the pay gap. "When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn't just be getting a little bit of bacon," Obama said.
Lawmakers could start by taking up the Paycheck Fairness Act, which last year fell short for the second time of the votes needed for passage in the Senate after Republicans blocked it on a procedural issue. A similar measure passed the House in 2009.
The legislation could help level the field by making it easier for women to find out how much their colleagues earn. It would prohibit companies from retaliating against workers for discussing their salaries. A recent survey found that 62 percent of private-sector workers are barred or discouraged from talking about their pay, compared with 18 percent in the public sector. If passed, the bill also would force employers to prove that any pay differences are based on job performance and are unrelated to gender.
In a discrimination case that helped rekindle the gender-pay debate, Lilly Ledbetter, a department manager at a Goodyear tire factory, was stunned when she learned how much more her male counterparts were paid. Ledbetter lost her discrimination suit in the U.S. Supreme Court after challenging the pay inequity. However, a 2009 law that bears her name eased statute-of-limitations restrictions, which made it possible for more employees to challenge unlawful pay discrimination based upon gender, race, age, or disability.
Some states, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to further strengthen equal-pay laws, are appropriately drafting their own, including New York. But that doesn't mean Congress should continue to drag its feet. Every American - male and female - deserves fairness in the workplace.