The Equal Pay Act of 1963
March is Women’s History Month, a month in which we celebrate women everywhere who have fought for equality, justice, and opportunity and on whose acts of bravery, we women stand today. March 14th, 2023, we acknowledged Equal Pay Day, a day that serves as a reminder of the systemic pay inequality American women still face. The pay gap in yearly income amounts to an average of $10,000 per year or 84 cents per dollar paid to men, and the gap is greater for women of color and women with disabilities. The date of March 14 symbolizes how far into the next year white women would need to work to catch up with the earnings of men in the previous year. Consider how demeaning it is for women to try to meet their own and their families’ needs under blatantly unequal and unfair conditions.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) was signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) and was one of the first US labor laws to target discrimination based on sex or gender. Specifically, the EPA “prohibited sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same work establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” (aclu.org).
Yet almost sixty years later, American women still operate with a significant gender pay gap. Why? There are many complex factors, including racism, sexism, and the best interests of business owners to name a few. So, it is no surprise that the original law was weakened by loopholes, inadequate remedies, and adverse court rulings than the Congress of 1963 had originally intended.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2009) was the first bill signed during the Obama-Biden administration. On the 14th anniversary of the Act in January 2023, President Biden spoke about it as having allowed important protections against pay discrimination and helped close persistent gender and racial wage gaps that disadvantaged female employees. He reminded us that in 2022, he signed an Executive Order to advance pay equity for job applicants and employees of federal contractors and noted that more changes still need be done to ensure that all people have a fair shot in this country. He highlighted that improving the economic security of women and their families helps everybody.
President Biden also promoted the importance of ratifying the Paycheck Fairness Act (2021), an amendment of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The Paycheck Fairness Act offers updates required to make the Equal Pay Act a more effective legal tool to challenge company practices by strengthening enforcement of the Equal Pay Act. It does this by aligning the fight for workplace gender equality with other federal anti-discrimination laws, such as the ability to unite in class actions to challenge systemic pay discrimination. Its ratification will be one step toward achieving equal pay for equal work. (congress.gov)
Write your federal representatives and urge them to ratify the Equal Pay Act is a worthy action. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) administers and enforces the EPA (1-800-669-4000). For those readers who want to learn more about what the EEOC currently offers, the Commission has prepared an online webinar titled, EEOC 101 Back-To-The Basics Webinar & Listening Session-Equal Pay/Wage (3/23/23).
Additional Sources: aclu.org;americanprogress.org;Blog.dol.gov;https://www.eeoc.gov;Masterclass.com