wage Discrimination

Too Many Rulings are Supremely Courteous to Corporations

This op-ed was originally published at OtherWords.org

Americans realize that our rights and liberties depend on having a system of justice that we can trust. We know we should be able to show up in court to contest anything from a parking ticket to felony and make our case — whether we're rich or poor.

But there's one U.S. court where it's increasingly hard for individual Americans to have their voices heard. The Supreme Court — our court of last resort — is making it harder for individual citizens to hold the rich and powerful accountable.

In recent years, the high court has consistently twisted the law and Constitution to put giant corporations' profits over the rights of individual Americans. That means it's getting harder for citizens to seek justice when corporations stiff us.Supreme Corp.

In June, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that more than a million women who had suffered wage discrimination as employees of Walmart couldn't join together to sue the company. Several women had filed a class action suit against the company on behalf of themselves and up to 1.5 million other women who faced similar treatment, seeking to pool their resources in order to go up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world. But the majority opinion ignored what the women had in common and focused instead on the differences bound to arise within a group that large, ruling that they couldn't go in it together to hold Walmart accountable. By sharply reducing the ability of employees to pool their resources, the court has made it easier for big employers to discriminate.

The Walmart case is only one example of the Supreme Court's growing tendency to side with the interests of big corporations over the rights of ordinary citizens. Earlier this year, the court ruled that Californians who had fallen prey to an alleged scam by their cell phone company couldn't join together to hold the company accountable. Because each customer was cheated out of a relatively small amount, few customers would go to the trouble of recovering their money. Many victims had not even noticed the relevant charge in their bill.

For these reasons, only a large class action lawsuit would serve to hold the company accountable. In another case, the court ruled that a financial firm accused of defrauding its investors couldn't be held liable because the firm had protected itself with a cleverly designed corporate structure. In doing so, the court both ignored the clear meaning of the law and essentially provided financial firms with an instruction manual on how to defraud their clients without being caught.

In the past year, the Supreme Court also handed two big victories to pharmaceutical companies. In one, it ruled that a state couldn't prohibit the sale or use of pharmacies' prescription data by drug companies without the prescribing doctor's authorization. In the other, the court let a pharmaceutical company off the hook for failing to warn about the dangerous side effects of a drug it was selling — a failure that resulted in at least one patient developing a painful and incurable neurological disorder.

Of course, sometimes the law really is on the side of big business. Our justice system requires that big corporations get a fair hearing just as ordinary citizens do. But they don't deserve more of a voice than the rest of us. The Supreme Court, guided by a right-wing majority, has increasingly bought the convoluted arguments of moneyed corporations lock, stock, and barrel, while turning a blind eye to the law — to say nothing of the impact on ordinary Americans. These decisions don't just hurt the individuals directly involved in them. They hurt us all, by limiting our rights and sending a signal to the wealthy and powerful that they can go ahead and abuse the rest of us without consequence.

Our founders wrote the Constitution to protect individuals against the whims of the powerful. But too often lately, the Supreme Court has twisted our laws to protect the powerful from being held accountable by individuals. Supreme Court justices and lower federal court judges must defend the Constitution, not twist it beyond recognition.

Marge Baker is executive vice president of People For the American Way.

PFAW

PFAW urges you to contact Congress tomorrow on Equal Pay Day

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the devastating Ledbetter ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – but it wasn’t the last word. The Paycheck Fairness Act would move us even further forward by providing the tools necessary to enforce equity in the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. It strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are expected to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act tomorrow in honor of Equal Pay Day. Ask your Representative and Senators to support this important legislation. Be sure to thank them if they’re already cosponsors.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, tomorrow:

[S]ymbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010.

Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages.

Since Census statistics showing the latest wage figures will not be available until late August or September, NCPE leadership decided years ago to select a Tuesday in April as Equal Pay Day. (Tuesday was selected to represent how far into the work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week.) The date also is selected to [avoid] religious holidays and other significant events.

Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay. The wage gap is even greater for most women of color.

In addition to NCPE, National Women’s Law Center, the American Association of University Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the many good resources for information and action. I would also encourage you to check out MomsRising. Then visit our web site for a fact sheet and letters to the House and Senate.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – the vote is imminent

The Senate is scheduled to take 2 votes today at 11 am. First up – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

You already have our letter and fact sheet, and the action alert from the American Association of University Women. Today I wanted to share with you some words from the White House.

This is the official Statement of Administration Policy.

The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 3772, the Paycheck Fairness Act. The persistent gap between men’s and women’s wages demonstrates the need for legislative change. This bill would address this gap by enhancing enforcement of equal pay laws. Specifically, it would prohibit retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wage information, and it would provide more effective remedies for women subjected to discriminatory pay practices. S. 3772 would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by closing judicially created loopholes in the law and bringing its class action rules into conformity with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. S. 3772 also requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay data to better enforce laws prohibiting pay discrimination.

And here’s a blog post from Terrell McSweeny, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

The Importance of Equal Pay For Women

Posted by Terrell McSweeny on November 17, 2010 at 07:00 AM EST

Yesterday I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read an opinion piece “Washington’s Equal Pay Obsession” arguing that the Paycheck Fairness Act is unnecessary because, in a nutshell, women don’t face rampant pay discrimination. Instead, the author asserted, the wage gap exists because women are mothers.

So let’s break this down.

First, there is ample evidence that women – regardless of their parental status - do face pay discrimination.  Yes, part of the wage gap is a result of occupational choices and other factors. No one denies that. Most economists agree, however, that no matter how many variables you control for an unexplained wage gap between men and women persists. For example, Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn did an excellent breakdown of the wage gap in 2007 and identified that 41% of the wage gap between men and women could not be explained by controlling for variables. Regardless of the precise percentage of the wage gap, we have a responsibility to ensure that no one in this country makes less as a result of his or her gender.

Wage discrimination is real.

Just ask Lilly Ledbetter.  She is a mother.  She didn’t seek a “less stressful work environment” than her male counter parts.  And she was paid roughly 30% less.   If she had been allowed to share information about her pay with her colleagues she would have realized she was being paid less than men with less experience.

But Lilly couldn’t bring that case.  She could have lost her job if she discussed her pay with her colleagues.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would provide that protection. The author is right there are a lot of laws aimed at this problem – but because they don’t provide basic tools like pay transparency, discrimination persists.

Where employees know how their pay compares to that of their peers they are better able to advocate for themselves and ensure discrimination does not occur. For example, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently conducted a survey that shows that only 14% of public sector workers feel that discussions of pay are discouraged or prohibited. In the federal government, the wage gap between men and women is only 11%. Conversely, in the private sector, the survey showed that 61% of employees are discouraged or prohibited from talking about salary information. The wage gap in the broader economy is much larger.  It’s common sense that in order to identify and prevent discrimination, employees have to know how their pay compares to that of their peers and that pay would be more equal where workplaces are more open.

Second, lots of women who are parents don’t take time off or seek flexible schedules.  This is particularly true in tough economic times when families increasingly rely on women’s income.  That’s one of reasons why, for the first time, women now make up nearly half of all workers on US payrolls.   In fact, now more than ever women are the primary breadwinners for their families.  As families depend more on women’s wages, eliminating wage discrimination is also critical for middle class economic security - families who are working hard can hardly afford to lose part of a paycheck to discrimination.

Motherhood should not be used as a scapegoat here. BLS reports that in 2009, 64% of women in the workforce were not parents at all. And many still are paid less than their male counter parts.   

Third, “career breaks” do not necessarily equate with loss of skill.  Taking a year or ten off to stay home with kids doesn’t necessarily mean a parent has lost skills.  

The Paycheck Fairness Act gives women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace. For example, the legislation allows employees to inquire about wages or share salary information without fear of reprisals. The Act closes loopholes that make it harder for women to challenge being paid different wages for the same work, and it ensures that women who prove their case are compensated fairly.

Women deserve these protections.

Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Take a few minutes now to dial 877-667-6650.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – call the Senate today

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session soon. Number 2 on the list tomorrow – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

In addition to sharing with you our letter and fact sheet, PFAW is asking you to call the Senate in support of the bill. Here’s today action alert from the American Association of University Women.

Today's the Day: Call for Fair Pay!

We expect the Senate will vote upon the Paycheck Fairness Act as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 17th. We may be on the cusp of an historic victory for fair pay, but to achieve it, we need your help.

Today, American Association of University Women members and supporters across the country will join thousands of other pay equity advocates in a nationwide call-in day to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. We have enough votes to pass the bill, which would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to coworkers – but we need to win a procedural vote – which has a 60 vote hurdle – so that the bill is considered for passage.

Whether you’ve written, emailed, and called your senators once, twice, or fifty times, today is the day to call again. We want to keep senators’ phones ringing off the hook, and we can do it if you call at least once today and tell your senators that the time has come to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and make real progress on equal pay for equal work. 

Take Action!

Call your senators (toll-free at 877/667-6650 or by entering your zip code above) and urge them to vote for and support the Paycheck Fairness Act without amendments. With a vote as early as tomorrow, your senators need to hear from you TODAY! Once you’ve taken action, forward this alert to your friends and family and encourage them to take action too!

AAUW has been leading the coalition to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes, strengthen incentives to prevent pay discrimination, and bring the Equal Pay Act in line with other civil rights laws. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages. Call your Senators today!

NOTE: If you’re unable to call today, call tomorrow and every day until the bill passes!

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s today – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – two days left

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session this Wednesday. Number 2 on the list – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

In addition to our recent fact sheet, PFAW has just sent its letter to the Senate urging the bill’s passage.

November 15, 2010

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act formed a strong foundation for pay equity in this country. Now that fair access to the courts has been restored, it is time to build on that foundation. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

The Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision was a clear step backward for ending employment discrimination in the workplace, when the Supreme Court held that employees could not challenge ongoing compensation discrimination if the employer’s original discriminatory decision occurred more than 180 days before filing of the claim. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was meant to correct this misinterpretation of the nation’s civil rights laws. It reiterates Congress’ intent to hold employers accountable for discrimination and allows employees a fair chance to fight back.

But they still need the tools to do so. S. 3772 strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

S. 3772 sends a clear message: The wage gap is real. No employer should benefit from discriminating against employees like Lilly Ledbetter. Retaliating against employees who fight for equal pay is unacceptable. Pay equity should be the rule, not the exception. What S. 3772 does not do is also clear: It does not eviscerate employers’ legal rights. It does not take away their right to set their own business practices or constrain them in terms of job applicants. It does not create unfair comparisons between jobs performed or where they’re performed. It does not hurt small businesses, and it certainly does not negatively impact women.

In fact, S. 3772 is good for families who are facing daily struggles in this unsteady economy. The last thing they should be worrying about is whether the women who work so hard to support them are being treated fairly in the workplace. Americans know this to be true. According to a June 2010 National Partnership for Women and Families/Lake Research Partners poll(1) regarding the Paycheck Fairness Act, 84% said they supported “a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace.” 72% expressed strong support. This message resonated with men (81% support/69% strong) and women (87% support/74% strong) and among Democrats (91% support/83% strong), Republicans (77% support/61% strong), and Independents (87% support/70% strong). It also holds up among racial and ethnic groups and across geographic regions.

For these reasons and more, we strongly urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program

(1) A press release announcing the poll results is available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=24776&security=2141&news_iv_ctrl=1741. Visit http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/5-2010_Poll_Data_One_Pager.pdf?docID=6681 for additional information.

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s tomorrow – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Supreme Court Changes Course to Rule for Workers Over Technicalities

Good news from the Supreme Court this morning: after taking a beating for its 2007 decision denying Lilly Ledbetter the right to sue her former employer for years of wage discrimination based on a deadline she could not have observed, and for a series of stunning pro-corporate rulings, the Court today handed down two decisions restoring justice to workers who had been denied relief based on technicalities.

In Lewis v. City of Chicago, the Court ruled that 6,000 African American applicants for firefighting jobs in Chicago could sue the city for discrimination, even though the city argued they had filed their complaints too long after the discrimination had taken place (whether or not the discrimination happened was not in question):

In a 9-0 decision, the justices said the city was liable for paying damages to those applicants who had "qualified" scores on the test but were excluded in favor of those who scored higher. Earlier this year, a lawyer for black applicants estimated the total damages in the case could reach $100 million.

The question was whether the city’s discrimination had taken place when it had compiled a discriminatory hiring list (in which case the plaintiffs had missed the filing deadline), or each time it made a hiring decision based on that list (in which case they had sued the city in time). The court ruled the latter.

And in Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co., the Court ruled unanimously that an employee who had prevailed in her suit for benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) could gather attorneys’ fees, even though she had not prevailed through a judicial decision. (Her employer had backed down and agreed to pay her compensation before the case was decided by a court).

About 10,000 ERISA lawsuits are filed each year.

President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, filed amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs in both cases.
 

PFAW