By Tara Murtha
“Gender-based wage discrimination is unfortunately alive and persistent in Pennsylvania,” Terry Fromson, Managing Attorney of Women’s Law Project, testified in front of the House Democratic Policy Committee in Philadelphia yesterday.
“Although significant progress was made in closing the pay gap following the adoption of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII in the 1960s, that progress has stalled. The ratio of women’s pay to men’s pay narrowed only by 1.7 percent between 2004 and 2013.”
“In Pennsylvania women working full time, year round, are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to men,” Fromson continued. “For women of color, the gender pay differences are larger. If this slowing of progress continues, women will not achieve parity with men until 2058.”
Fromson told the Committee specific allegations of pay discrimination considered by Pennsylvania courts in the last decade:
“The female vice president whose salary was ten to twenty thousand less than the other three male vice presidents … the senior consultant who was hired at a salary $15,000 less than the man hired one month after her … a high school principal paid $10,000-$15,000 less than equally positioned male principals.”
In some cases, Fromson said, women who discovered a discrepancy have been penalized for standing up for themselves, like the “female manager who was fired when she complained about being paid $14,000 less than a similarly situated male coworker.”
Fromson took issue with the common argument that disparities in average pay for full-time work between men and women are just a result of women’s choices, such as what kind of job to pursue and having children. As Fromson pointed out, research proves that assertion wrong: the pay gap remains even when controlling for these variables.
The problem certainly isn’t education. “In the 2009-2010 academic year, women earned the majority of bachelor’s, graduate, and professional degrees,” said Fromson. “Nonetheless, one year out of college they experienced a wage gap of 82% of the wages paid to their male counterparts.”
The hearing was held to showcase support for Pennsylvania House Bill 1250. Introduced by Rep. Maria P. Donatucci (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), HB 1250 seeks to update Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law for the first time since 1959.
Like the federal law, Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law prohibits wage discrimination based on gender in the workplace when the work requires equal skill, effort and responsibility. The act also sets forth penalties for violations.
The penalties, however, have not been updated for more than 50 years. Currently, businesses found in violation are penalized $50 to $200 per day. HB 1250 would increase that fine to $400 to $1,600. Fromson, however, asked the House to increase the penalties to those set forth in the original bill: a fine between $1,000 and $25,000. Fromson also took issue with two other changes that watered down the original version of HB 1250: keeping the statute of limitations at two years instead of expanding it to three, and removing language that makes discrimination against each individual employee a separate violation.
“In light of the passage of 55 years and the persistence of wage discrimination based on sex,” Fromson urged the House to “adopt the strongest bill with the strongest deterrents and remedies to eradicate pay discrimination.”
Women’s Law Project seeks to advance the legal status of women and girls through work such as advocating for common-sense updates to Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Act. WLP also supports new legislative initiatives such as Representative Molchany’s and Sims’ House Bill 1890, which was recently introduced as part of the Women’s Health Agenda, a proactive, pro-choice package of legislative bills proposed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
“By amending Pennsylvania’s equal pay law to require greater scrutiny of pay differences, HB 1890 will insure that any differences that exist are in fact based on a bona fide factor other than sex that is job-related and consistent with business necessity,” testified Fromson. “HB 1890 will also remove the pay secrecy obstacle that prevents women from finding out if they are being paid differently.”