Equal Employment Commission reports gender pay gap persists

By Kimberly Atkins

Dolan Media Newswires

Long after laws prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of gender were put on the books, gender-based pay disparities in American workplaces persist - and cannot be explained by non-discriminatory factors, according to federal officials and other experts at a recent forum held by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

''We have come a long way since the days when gender-based inequities in access to jobs and payment of wages were sanctioned by law, but studies show that a significant portion of the wage disparity cannot be explained by differences in experience, specific work performed, education or other non-discriminatory factors,'' said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien at the April 28 event at the agency's headquarters.

''This persistent disparity is a stark reminder that the EEOC's work to end every form of sex discrimination in the workplace - including compensation discrimination - is still unfinished business.''

Katherine M. Kimpel, a partner in the Washington office of Sanford Wittels and Heisler, said many of her clients don't even realize that they are the victims of gender-based pay discrimination.

''Most women come to me as a plaintiff's attorney with claims if discrimination based on promotion, or pregnancy, or sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. Very rarely does someone come to me and say: 'I think I'm being underpaid.'''

Yet most female employees are paid less than their male counterparts, she said. If a woman does not know for sure that she is being paid the same as men in her workplace, Kimpel said, chances are she is not.

''Even if I can't end up proving some of the other things they come to me about, I usually am able to prove pay discrimination,'' Kimpel said of her clients.

Serena Fong of the nonprofit membership organization Catalyst, which works to expand opportunities for women in business, said that there is a gender leadership gap as well as a pay gap.

She noted that fewer than 2 percent of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are female. Further, she said, salary studies conducted by Catalyst show that women at these companies start off with salaries $4,600 less than men, even accounting for differences in education and experience.

The experts urged passage of legislation, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, which they say will close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act to help end workplace inequity.

The bill, H.R. 1519, was reintroduced in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro last month and would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing their salary with other workers, and subject employers who discriminate in pay on the basis of gender to compensatory and punitive damages.

Last congressional session, the measure was passed by the House, but defeated in the Senate.

Published: Thu, May 26, 2011