Today, April 22, is Equal Pay Day — the day when U.S. women’s average earnings finally catch up with the amount men earned on average in the previous calendar year.
When NOW was founded 42 years ago, women who worked full-time, year-round were paid, on average, just 58 cents for every dollar paid to men. Years of feminist advocating and agitating helped reduce the gap, but progress has hit a wall in the 21st century. Currently, women are paid 77 cents to the average man’s dollar, while African-American women receive 63 cents and Latinas 52 cents on the dollar. These numbers have moved little since the mid-1990s.
“Every week, every year, women bring home less money than men to support themselves and their families. If you look at it over a lifetime, the average woman is losing, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages and retirement income,” said NOW President Kim Gandy. “NOW is committed to closing this gap, no matter how long it takes, because economic justice is at the heart of women’s equality.”
Gandy points to Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for 19 years. For a long time, Ledbetter did not know she was earning considerably less than men in the same position. Eventually rumors surfaced, and when they finally turned into hard evidence, Ledbetter took her employer to court. A jury agreed she was paid unfairly, and awarded Ledbetter $223,776 in back pay, and over $3 million in punitive damages, but a judge cut that to only $300,000 because of a 1991 law that limits a company’s liability for damages. Goodyear took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 against Ledbetter, taking away every cent of the damages and back pay. The Court told Ledbetter that she should have filed a complaint of pay discrimination within 180 days of her first unfair paycheck, even though she had no knowledge of the disparity.
Immediately after the Court’s decision last May, the House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in an effort to restore the true intention of Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and protect other workers from wage discrimination. This week, better late than never, it’s the Senate’s turn to vote on this important legislation.
“Lilly Ledbetter and millions of women like her may never recover the pay they lost during their lifetimes,” said Gandy. “But NOW calls on the Senate to pass the Fair Pay Act to ensure that pay discrimination victims get their fair day in court.”