Featured Video

Mikulski Speaks on Senate Floor in Support of Nominee for Maryland District Court Judge Grimm

Visit the Media Center »

Get Connected

U.S. Senate Floor
November 17, 2010

Senator Mikulski made the following speech to urger her Senate colleagues to vote for cloture on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that takes a step further in the fight for paycheck equality.

"I rise to speak on Paycheck Fairness, a bill that we will shortly be voting for cloture on. The Paycheck Fairness Act picks up where the famous Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act left off. I was so proud to lead the fight on the Senate floor two years ago under a new Congress and a new president to ensure that we righted the wrong of a Supreme Court decision where Lilly Ledbetter, on behalf of American women everywhere, sued to be sure that she could get equal pay for equal or comparable work.

"The Congress responded well, and that legislation is now the law of the land. But, the Paycheck Fairness Act picks up where Ledbetter left off because it left the courthouse door open to sue for discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act makes it more difficult to discriminate in the first place.

"It increases penalties for discrimination, it prohibits the employer from retaliating against an employee who shares pay information, and it closes a loophole that allows for a broad defense in equal pay cases.

"Let me go through this one by one. It improves remedies for when discrimination has occurred. Current law says women can only sue for back pay and fixed damages. The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow women to get additional compensatory damage, which makes up for the injury or harm suffered based on discrimination. Ledbetter had no provisions regarding damage.

"Also, it prohibits employer retaliation, which is so crucial and, wow, does this go on in the workplace. Under current law, employers can sue or actually punish employees for sharing salary statements and information with coworkers. This is usually the way that employees find out that they’re being discriminated against.

"In the famous Supreme Court hearing, some of our Supreme Court Justices, who brag that they don’t know what a Blackberry is, gave women the raspberry when they said women should know they’re being discriminated against. But you can’t even talk at the water cooler or down in the office gym and say, ‘I’m getting paid this. What are you getting paid for the same job?’

"The Paycheck Fairness Act will prohibit employers from taking action against employees who simply share information about what they’re getting paid. This was not included in the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and right now an employer can assert a defense that the pay differential is based on a factor other than sex.

"Courts have interpreted this very broadly and a number of factors are limitless. The Paycheck Fairness Act tightens that loophole by requiring that a paycheck differential is caused by something other than sex or gender; that it is related to job performance and is necessary for the business.

"Ledbetter did not address that loophole. That’s how this bill takes Ledbetter a step further – it really gives women, ethnic minorities and other groups that have been discriminated against the tools they need to know what they’re being paid. It’s fundamental fairness. You ought to be paid equal pay for equal or comparable work. It is fundamentally fair. If the same people are doing the job with the same skills and background, they ought to get the same pay – it affects their whole way of life.

"Right now, equal pay is one of the ways that we can make sure the family checkbook is increased based on merit. Why do you need another bill, Senator Barb? Some people say that women already have enough tools to fight discrimination. Well, we haven’t fixed everything. And here, I think this bill is simple and achievable, especially with the small business exemption.

"By the way, I know there is concern for how it could affect small business, but businesses with revenue less than $500,000 are exempt from the Equal Pay Act. That means the Paycheck Fairness Act maintains that exemption.

"When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women earned merely 59 cents on every dollar earned by men. We’ve made progress – in 47 years we’ve now come up to about 77 cents for every dollar that men make. It only took us 47 years to get an 18 cent increase. Well, I think times are changing.

"More women are in the workplace now, and I think women are now often the sole or primary source of income in households. Creating a wage gap is not the way to improve the health of a family or the health of our community. I can go through a lot of statistics about what that means, but what I want to say is that with many Americans already earning less, we need to make sure that the family budget is based on people being able to get paid for what they do and make work worth it and make wage compensation fair.

"Mr. President, I think the facts speak for themselves on why this bill is necessary. I think the bill itself is a very specific, achievable and narrowly drawn bill, and I urge the adoption by my colleagues. I urge my colleagues to vote for cloture.”