House Democrats advance equal pay bill over Republican objections

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House lawmakers on Thursday passed legislation targeting the gender pay gap, known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, though the bill advanced without the support of Republicans.

The final vote tally was 217-210.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., was the only Republican that voted in favor of the measure, as noted by C-Span reporter Craig Caplan.

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The Paycheck Fairness Act would implement several provisions to close the pay gap, including requiring employers to prove that pay discrepancies are based on factors other than gender and preventing retaliation against employees who ask about their employer’s pay practices. It would also allow for comparisons within certain geographical areas to determine fair pay standards and ramp up penalties for companies that fail to meet equal pay criteria.

Some business groups, however, have alleged that it would hamstring employers that have legitimate reasons supporting their pay decisions.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to lawmakers this week arguing that while it supports equal employment opportunities, the bill would limit an employer’s ability to defend "legitimate pay disparities."

"H.R. 7 would significantly erode the defenses available to employers under the EPA by requiring that a given explanation for a pay disparity be driven by ‘business necessity,’ defined as something required to keep the business operating," the chamber’s letter read. "Eliminating legitimate distinctions in compensations such as experience, education, location, shift work, and skill would mean many employees would not be compensated for their actual contributions to their employer."

The group also said it would make it easier for employees to join class action lawsuits.

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Democrats have attempted to pass this legislation four times. It is not clear that any Republicans in the Senate will support its passage, which would be necessary.

A report by the World Economic Forum found that the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have set women back in terms of achieving pay equity – it is now expected to take 135.6 years instead of 99.5 years for women across the globe to receive the same pay rates as their male counterparts.

The cause of pay disparities and the extent to which is it based on discrimination against women is disputed.

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