The Ongoing Battle Over Equal Pay for Women in the Workplace

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The Senate recently voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act, but it doesn’t look like the issue of equal pay for women will be going away any time soon. To the contrary, Lilly Ledbetter herself, who has become a national symbol for the women’s fight for equal pay, has vowed not to give up: “It's not Republican or Democrat. It's everybody's issue," she said in an interview after the Senate’s vote.

Ledbetter’s Lawsuit & Legislative Response

In 2007, Ledbetter lost her personal fight for equal pay as a 30-year Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. employee when the Supreme Court decided that the statute of limitations for bringing an equal pay lawsuit begins running on the date the employer begins paying allegedly discriminatory wages. Accordingly, the Court ruled, Ledbetter's lawsuit was not brought in front of them in time.

In direct response, however, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extended the statute of limitations to include each time an allegedly discriminatory paycheck is issued. But the inequality of women's pay in the workplace is an issue that is far from resolved.

The Issue of Equal Pay Over the Years

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.” This is despite the existence of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay women and men different wages for substantially similar work.

Earlier this year in an effort to expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Act, among other provisions, would require employers to prove any wage discrepancies between men and women are based on factors other than gender, such as education, training or experience. Moreover, the act would enhance penalties for violations and prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for disclosing salary information.

However, the Senate recently voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act. That won't stop Lilly Ledbetter, who is touring the country fighting for equal pay for equal work as she spreads the word about her memoir, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond.

What to Do If You Feel You're Not Receiving Equal Pay Based on Your Gender

If you’re a woman and you believe you’re getting paid less in the workplace based on your gender, the current legal framework under the Equal Pay Act permits you to bring a lawsuit against your employer.

Before you pursue legal action, one useful tactic may be negotiation. Forbes recently reported the results of a LinkedIn survey, which found that American women are the most averse to the process of negotiation. Some believe this lack of negotiating is an important contributing factor to the persistent wage gap between the sexes.

As long as there is inequity, the fight for fair wages will persist. If you feel you're being treated unfairly, you could take the situation into your own hands and fight for equal wages, whether it's through negotiations or à la Lilly Ledbetter in a courtroom. Small steps create precedents and precedents evolve into law, so whatever you do can make a difference.