Ledbetter Act, Very Much Watered Down

Little after a fortnight since I wrote my original post on the Ledbetter act, the House voted yesterday to pass the Senate version of the bill (S. 181). The bill has now become public law (Public Law 111-2).

This is all well and good, except in my opinion, the Senate bill that became Public Law is a very much watered down version from the original bill that the House passed (H.R. 11). The Senate bill is watered down because it strips out Title II of the House bill, which dealt with paycheck fairness for women in the workplace.

This is disappointing because Title II of the House bill had some real teeth in it. For example, Section 203(a) of the House bill would have made it much harder to employers to discriminate in pay on the basis of sex; Section 203(b) would have made employer retaliation against women who filed claims of paycheck discrimination; and section 203(c) would have increased the penalities on employers for each violation.

But instead, all of Title II of the House bill is stripped from the Senate bill, and the Senate bill ended up becoming law. This is where I have a hard time dealing with American political reality: from a purely normative perspective, the House should have insisted that Title II of H.R. 11 remain in the Senate bill. But given the choice of having a political fight or passing a compromised legislation, the choice is usually clear.

So am I disappointed? Of course! But given the political situation, I’ll take what I can get. However, it is disappointing to see that women are still not receiving equal pay for performing equal work, this long after they have achieved the franchise. Furthermore, it’s ironic that the Senate bill passed with the support of every single female Senator, but yet the Senate bill itself did not have the provisions that would have explicitly protected women against paycheck unfairness.

As Amartya Sen says in Development as Freedom (highly recommended reading), women’s freedom and human agency are much increased if their economic situation improves. But one can always hope.


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