Closing the gender pay gap: Are lawsuits the way forward?

Republicans say laws already on the books already outlaw pay discrimination. But Democrats, arguing existing laws aren’t doing enough, have passed a bill in the U.S. House that would make it easier to sue companies accused of paying women less than men.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, speaks to the media during her weekly briefing on Capitol Hill, April 15, 2021. The House bill on equal pay faces little chance of success in passing the divided Senate.

House Democrats approved legislation Thursday that they say would help close the gap between what men and women are paid in the workplace, though the measure faces little chance of overcoming Republican opposition in the Senate.

The bill, which is supported by President Joe Biden’s administration, passed 217-210 on a mostly party-line vote. It is the latest salvo in a long-running debate about equality of pay and the government’s role in ensuring it.

Despite their past efforts, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 signed into law by President Barack Obama, Democrats say there is still more that needs to be done to close a gap in pay, where, for example, white women make on average 82 cents to every dollar earned by men. The disparity is particularly acute for women of color, with Black women making about 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white male counterpart and Hispanic women making even less.

“Sadly, equal pay is not yet a reality in America,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “It’s almost sinful.”

The bill would make it easier to sue employers over pay discrimination, curb the ability of companies to retaliate, and beef up enforcement of existing laws, including a new requirement that businesses submit detailed pay data to the federal government for use in policing pay discrimination laws. It would also ban employers from prohibiting employees from discussing their salaries.

Republicans say laws already on the books outlaw pay discrimination. And they counter that the bill would largely be a boon for trial lawyers looking to sue companies while miring employers in burdensome new reporting requirements that would require them to submit detailed pay information to the federal government.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said that “wage discrimination has no place in any society.” But he said the Democrats’ bill wasn’t the right way to go about correcting those wrongs.

“The path Congress must take is to not increase opportunities for trial lawyers, but to continue its focus on strong economic policy that actually expands opportunities for all Americans,” he said.

Democrats counter, however, that existing protections have proved insufficient, including those offered under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.

The United States is hardly alone in having such disparities. But the gap is larger here than in many other countries, with only Mexico, Finland, Israel, Japan, and Korea having larger differentials, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental group based in Paris.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said part of the reason for the pay disparities is that many women choose jobs that offer more flexibility to balance home and work.

“Democrats aren’t giving the full story when they talk about pay differences,” Ms. Foxx said. “Women are making career choices that are best for themselves and their families.”

The measure is widely opposed by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which argued in a letter to members of Congress that there are often legitimate reasons for differences in pay between men and women.

“Increasing the opportunity for frivolous litigation would only further serve to undermine our nation’s civil rights laws,” the Chamber wrote.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Closing the gender pay gap: Are lawsuits the way forward?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today