The Gender Pay Gap has been all over the news lately with everyone from Serena Williams to Jennifer Lawrence speaking out for equal pay. It is 2017 and in the United States women are still making only about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, for performing the same work. If you're like many people, you may be asking yourself, "How can that be? Isn't that illegal?" The answer is yes, it is illegal.
It has been illegal for employers to pay women less than men for performing equal work since 1963 when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law stating that the Act would end "the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job." In 1963, women were making 60 cents for every dollar earned by men. It has been over 50 years and we have only come about half way - getting 20 cents closer to the goal of equality but remaining 20 cents away.
This lack of progress has inspired some states to take additional action and Iowa, as it often has in matters of civil rights, took the lead. In 2009, the Iowa Legislature enacted Iowa Code Section 216.6A, known as Iowa's Equal Pay Act. The Act prohibits all wage discrimination, not just gender discrimination, including discrimination based on age, religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin and disability. In addition to expanding those persons protected from pay discrimination, Iowa's Equal Pay Act includes an enhanced damage provision that provides that victims of wage discrimination are entitled to recover two times the wage differential during the entire period of discrimination, or three times the wage differential if the discrimination was willful. This is important because it makes it less likely that employers will benefit financially from discriminating.
But despite Iowa strong Equal Pay Act, Iowa women still only make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man performing the same work. So what gives? Well, Iowa's Equal Pay Act, like the federal Equal Pay Act provides a civil remedy...meaning that it is generally only enforced when women bring a lawsuit against their employer. This can create a problem because employers are not required to disclose employee earnings, which means that many women do not know that they are being paid less than their male co-workers.
Despite this lack of progress, I believe the Gender Pay Gap is going to be eliminated and that it is not going to take another 50 years. I have helped a number of women in lawsuits against their employers based on unequal pay and these lawsuits have made a difference, not just for my clients, but for their female co-workers who also benefit from the employer being held accountable. Almost everyone supports equal pay for equal work and so it is up to all of us to demand that employers pay their employees fairly. For more information on how you can support pay equality check out this website.