Obama Backs Bill to Increase Gender Pay Litigation ‘Tools’

By Fred Lucas | June 4, 2012 | 4:42pm EDT

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama strongly supports legislation that would place more regulations on business and expand litigation opportunities for women who experience pay discrimination from their employer. This comes at a time when Democrats are trying to mobilize women voters for the 2012 elections.

In public speeches, Obama has urged the public to pressure the U.S. Senate to reach the filibuster-proof, 60-vote threshold to pass the bill that comes up for a vote on Tuesday, June 5.

“If Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act, women are going to have access to more tools to claim equal pay for equal work,” Obama said during a listen-only conference call on June 4. “If Congress doesn’t act, women are still going to have difficulty enforcing and pressing for this basic principle.”

“We’ve got to understand this is more than just about fairness,” the president said. “Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families. And if they’re making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for childcare and tuition and rent. Small businesses have fewer customers. Everybody suffers.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that any wage gaps between men and women are the result of factors other than gender; would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers; and require the Department of Labor to train employers to eliminate pay disparities and create a competitive federal grant program to provide negotiation skills training programs for women.

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Obama talked about an app that the Labor Department created to encourage women to find out if they were facing pay discrimination.

“Earlier this year, the Department of Labor announced the winners of a national competition for equal pay apps that give women interactive tools and key information to help them determine if they are getting paid fairly,” Obama said.

(AP Photo)

Women are paid an average of 77 cents for every $1 a man earns, according to Valerie Jarrett, senior presidential adviser at the White House. For black women, it is 64 cents per every $1 a man earns; and for Latinas it is 66 cents for every $1 a man earns, Jarrett said.

Obama criticized this disparity.

“It’s worse for African-American women and Latinas,” Obama said. “Over the course of her career, a woman with a college degree is going to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man who’s doing the same work. At a time when we are in a make or break moment for the middle class, Congress has to step up and do its job.”

However, those numbers are questionable.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says the statistics on pay equity are politicized and do not consider all factors.

“An analysis of more than 50 peer-reviewed papers, commissioned by the Labor Department, found that the so-called wage gap is mostly, and perhaps entirely, an artifact of the different choices men and women make -- different fields of study, different professions, different balances between home and work,” Sommers wrote.

“A core provision would encourage class-action lawsuits and force defendants to settle under threat of uncapped punitive damages,” said Sommers. “Employers would be liable not only for intentional discrimination (banned long ago) but for the ‘lingering effects of past discrimination.’ What does that mean? Employers have no idea.”

Sommers further said, “The current recession has hit men harder than women. Census data from 2008 show that single, childless women in their 20s now earn 8 percent more on average than their male counterparts in metropolitan areas.”

The passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act would harm women, said Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative women’s group.

“Thirty percent of small businesses in the U.S. are owned by women,” Nance said in a statement. “Anything that hurts business growth hurts women.”   

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