The Defeat of the Paycheck “Fairness” Act is a Win for Women

On Wednesday, the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act failed cloture vote in the Senate by just two votes. We applaud those lawmakers that blocked this misguided bill that would greatly expand the role of government in employer and workers’ compensation decisions.
But the fight may not be over yet. Two years ago, the misnamed bill passed the House by a fairly wide margin. President Obama has claimed that passing the “common-sense bill” that will supposedly ensure “equal pay” for women is his priority. We could potentially see the bill arise again in the current Lame Duck Session.

Under the guise of protecting against sexism, the bill is a job killer that will ultimately hurt working women. It amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to require employers to submit their pay records classified by sex, race and national origin to the federal government.

As the Wall Street Journal correctly notes, this would be a “boon for trial lawyers.” To be sure, trial lawyers would vigilantly scan through every record searching for any instances of pay disparity. It would become much easier for any person to file a class-action lawsuit with punitive damages against employers accused of pay discrimination.

If passed, the bill would do more harm than good for working women. Due to the fear of costly and frivolous lawsuits, employers may think twice before hiring a qualified woman. As Independent Women’s Forum policy analyst Romina Boccia states,

this raises the liability employers face when hiring women. As a consequence, employers, fearful of the prospects of costly litigation to defend against pay-based lawsuits, may avoid hiring women.

With unemployment at a high 9.6 percent, it would be foolish to impose even more burdensome regulations on businesses while likely reducing women’s employment opportunities.

Proponents of this legislation claim that women earn 77 cents to every man’s dollar. This statistic, however, does not even factor men and women who are working in similar jobs with the same background. How much of this wage gap is evidence of gender-based discrimination? Most research has found that the gender pay disparity is largely a result of individual choices made by men and women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act tries to solve a problem that largely doesn’t even exist. In the New York Times, Christina Hoff Sommers writes,

There are lots of other reasons men might earn more than women, including differences in education, experience and job tenure. When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

Even a study from the Labor Department found that the pay gap between men and women “may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.” The study cites a number of factors that explain the wage gap statistic including men are more likely to take high risk jobs, work longer hours and accept jobs that require lots of required traveling.

The reality is that we are all forced to make trade offs in life. In the Washington Post, Independent Women’s Forum scholar Carrie Lukas admits that she willing forewent higher pay for more work flexibility. She writes:

I’m the cause of the wage gap — I and hundreds of thousands of women like me… I sought out a specialty and employer that seemed best suited to balancing my work and family life. When I had my daughter, I took time off and then opted to stay home full time and telecommute. I’m not making as much money as I could, but I’m compensated by having the best working arrangement I could hope for.

President Obama recently released a press release claiming that he will continue to fight for “equal pay for equal work.” It is important to understand that gender discrimination plays little to no role in pay disparity between men and women. It is largely a result of individual choices that women make which employers do not have control over. There is nothing “fair” about the Paycheck Fairness Act. Thankfully, the misguided bill that would empower trial lawyers at the expense of working women failed to move forward in the Senate. Let’s hope it stays defeated.