Congress

House passes gender pay gap bill, a top Democratic priority

Most Republicans oppose measure, say there are better ways to get pay parity without lawsuits

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has been introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act since 1997 in an effort to help close the gender pay gap. The House on Wednesday passed her bill, one of the new Democratic majority’s top priorities. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats on Wednesday passed another one of their top party priorities, a bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act that is designed to help close the gender pay gap. 

HR 7 passed, 242-187, with only seven Republican votes. Those included New Jersey’s Christopher H. Smith, an original cosponsor of the bill, Florida’s Mario Diaz-Balart, Idaho’s Mike Simpson, New York’s Tom Reed, Texas’ Will Hurd, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick and Illinois’ Rodney Davis. All 235 House Democrats voted for the measure. 

Smith and Diaz-Balart are the only two Republicans left in the House who voted for prior versions of the bill when Democrats brought it the floor the last two Congresses they were in the majority. In 2008, it passed 247-178, with 14 Republicans supporting it. And in 2010, it passed 256-163, with 10 Republicans backing it.

Diaz-Balart told Roll Call before the vote that he planned to remain consistent and vote for the measure because it was “not substantially different” from the prior versions. But he lamented that Democrats weren’t willing to address Republican concerns to make the bill more bipartisan.

“I wish that Democrats had actually put something forward that actually could get close to becoming law,” he said. “There’s things I don’t like in it, obviously, but I have voted for it, in essence, twice before.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide remedies for employees who face gender discrimination. Democrats say the measure would help women who earn less than their male counterparts doing the same job to get pay parity.

The bill requires employers to prove pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons and prohibits them from seeking previous salaries of prospective hires or retaliating against employees who discuss their wages. It also removes obstacles in the Equal Pay Act to allow workers to participate in class action lawsuits that challenge systemic pay discrimination, according to a Democratic summary.

“I cannot tell you how difficult it has been to break through on something so simple: Men and women in the same job deserve the same pay,” DeLauro, who has been introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act since 1997, said in floor remarks. “But now the issue and the environment have collided. Equal pay is at the center of our public discourse.”

Republicans opposing the legislation said it would open the door to frivolous lawsuits. 

“This bill doesn’t do anything to help working women,” North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee said. “This is a bill for trial lawyers, plain and simple. … Democrats want women to sue their bosses. Republicans want women to become the bosses.”

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik introduced a Republican alternative on Wednesday titled the WAGE Equity Act. Her bill would incentivize businesses to proactively address pay disparity using a self-audit system while protecting workers’ ability to negotiate employment based upon merit and to voluntarily disclose prior salary history, according to summary.

Some employer groups also opposed the bill. The Society for Human Resource Management, which represents more than 300,000 HR professionals, wrote a letter Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying it opposes the measure because it would prohibit common practices like providing performance-based increases on top of base pay.

“Employers design their pay structures to reflect the characteristics of their organizations, attract qualified applicants and retain top employees who are drawn to the mix of work and rewards of their employer,” Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the society’s president, wrote. “As drafted, H.R. 7 would prohibit much of these legitimate pay practices while establishing excessive punitive and compensatory liability under the Equal Pay Act against employers of every size.”

The Senate is not expected to take up the bill but Democrats hope that pressure from outside groups may change that. If not, DeLauro has said that if Democrats win full control of Congress and the White House in 2020, she’ll push for the Paycheck Fairness Act to be the first bill a newly elected Democratic president signs.

Flashback: Pelosi, Lewis and House Democrats unveil legislative agenda for 116th

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.