Today is Equal Pay Day in the United States—a day to acknowledge and reflect upon the gender pay gap that currently persists within our borders.

April 8, 2014 is not an arbitrary date on the calendar.  Equal Pay Day marks how far into the current year women must work to match what men earned in the previous year. To achieve the same salary as a man in 2013, on average, women needed to work an additional 3 months and 8 days – or until April 8, 2014.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 and requires employers to provide equal pay to men and women conducting the same jobs.  Despite major gains in the 50 years since the passage of the law, progress has slowed to a standstill in the fight for equal pay. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the gender pay gap has not budged in over a decade. In 2002, women in the U.S. made 77 percent of what men made. In 2012, that picture was the same.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), pay outlook is even worse for women of color, with African American women earning only 64 cents to every dollar, and Latina women earning only 55 cents to every dollar, made by a white male.  The arguments for equal pay are clear. Not only is this type of employment discrimination illegal, but it is morally unacceptable for an individual to be paid less for the same work simply because of gender differences.

Despite the clear need for enforcement of equal pay requirements, loopholes in current legislation and difficulty in detecting pay inequality makes it challenging to address. However, there are efforts being made to remedy the gender pay gap, one of which is the Paycheck Fairness Act, currently a hot topic of debate among politicians. This legislation would address the loopholes that prevent women from discussing salary as a means of remedying and ensuring fairness. Proponents of the bill cite that the Act is necessary to remove the secrecy and fear of backlash for discussing pay, but opposition argues that the legislation would only place undue burden on employers.

Though the Act has failed to become law, voted down twice since 2009, President Obama is taking steps today to promote its successful passage. He is expected to issue an executive order and presidential memorandum today, with the order prohibiting federal contractors from taking action against employees who discuss their wages and the memo requiring federal contractors to report the compensation being provided to employees noting both the sex and race of these employees. Further, the President is urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will go for a vote tomorrow, April 9.

With the number of barriers facing equal pay, it is clear that the fight will be an uphill battle. In the absence of further protection, all women should understand their current rights when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. The United States Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has compiled a Guide to Women’s Equal Pay Rights in order to ensure that women have adequate resources to protect themselves.

If you suspect that you are facing pay discrimination in the workplace, you can also contact the ERC at 202-234-3062 or on our website to learn more about your rights and how to enforce them.

The ERC, in collaboration with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, is also hosting a series of “Know Your Rights” presentations in the District of Columbia— in both English and Spanish—for women in the workplace.  For more information, contact Sarah Pauly at spauly@equalrightscenter.org.

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