WASHINGTON - The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday aimed at helping to close the pay gap between men and women in the workplace and increasing employer accountability.
The bill, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, passed 217-210 on a mostly party-line vote. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was the only Republican to support the legislation.
It is the latest act in a long-running debate about equality of pay and the government’s role in ensuring it, though the measure faces little chance of overcoming Republican opposition in the Senate, according to the Associated Press.
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.
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 white women make on average 82 cents to every dollar earned by men.
The gap is even wider 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."
"Fairness for women is essential, because we know that when women succeed, America succeeds," Pelosi added.
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: Flanked by (L-R) Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference about the Paycheck Fairness Act on Capitol Hill on April 15, 2021 in Washingto
Republicans say laws already on the books outlaw pay discrimination. They also argue that the bill would largely be a benefit for trial lawyers looking to sue companies while burdening employers with 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 U.S. 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 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international group based in Paris.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the leader of the House Education and Labor Committee, said 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," Foxx said. "Women are making career choices that are best for themselves and their families."
The measure is widely opposed by businesses, 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.