This week Republicans in the US Senate voted—not the first time—to kill a proposed law that would have enabled women to more easily sue the employers who pay them less than men. The bill would have extended the protections of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law shortly after he was elected. The Ledbetter Act adjusted the statute of limitations on equal pay lawsuits so that women weren’t prevented from suing if they discovered after the fact that they’d been deliberately underpaid by their employers. The bill that the Senate killed on Tuesday would have barred companies from retaliating against workers who inquire about pay disparities and clear the way for female employees to sue for punitive damages in cases of paycheck discrimination. In 2010, the same bill failed a procedural vote in the Senate when no Republican supported it.
Why the fuck would anyone want to vote against helping women achieve pay equity? The Senate Republicans’ central complaint was that the bill would create litigation and potentially onerous compliance issues for small businesses. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) called bullshit on this: “Where are these women supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? Have an appointment with their congressman? Show the congressman their paycheck?”
The truth is, Republicans want to keep women from having legal recourse when they’re the victims of pay discrimination. GOP politicians can claim that it’s about protecting businesses from lawsuits but that’s merely a scare tactic which comes in handy in an overly litigious country where people are terrified of being sued. Our economy does not suffer as a result of frivolous multi-billion dollar discrimination suits. In fact, a lot of legal action concerning pay inequity is not pursued by ambulance-chasing shysters but by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission—a branch of the federal government which enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC is not in the business of filing frivolous suits. The truth is, the vast majority of these lawsuits are warranted because businesses do discriminate against female employees. For proof, look no further than the well-documented and indisputable fact that in annual earnings, working women make about only 77 cents for every dollar men make.
Simply put, employers underpay women and have done so for as long as American women have been earning a wage. Pay inequity is an indisputable fact, and the only way to combat it is through legal means. By making it harder for women to sue over equal pay, Republicans are defending is the right of business owners and corporations to exploit and discriminate against female employees.