- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The House voted Wednesday to expand workers’ protections under equal employment laws, in a bill that would make it illegal to punish employees who publicly discuss their pay.

The legislation would also ban companies from using previous salary or wages as a basis for hiring decisions, and raise the burden of proof on employers to prove pay disparities are the result of job-related reasons such as more experience or education.

Democrats touted the bill as a solution to a pay gap between women and men in the U.S. workforce.

“It’s about respect. It’s about justice for women, finally closing the wage gap that robs women of more than $400,000 over the course of their working lives,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote.

The legislation passed on a 242-187 vote, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in support.

Opponents said the bill created a legal minefield for companies.

“Everyone in this House is in agreement that pay discrimination on the basis of sex is wrong,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. “This is a bill for trial lawyers, plain and simple.”

Republicans tried to offer an amendment to limit lawyers’ contingency fees for taking the cases, saying that would be a way to make sure the bill benefits workers more than attorneys.

Democrats defeated that proposal.

Conservatives also argue that the crackdown on wage and compensation disparities will force employers to create a far more standardized and rigid system for benefits.

“It imposes a one-size-fits-all mandate to one of the most varied and complex work forces in the world,” Rep. Bradley Byrne, Alabama Republican, said. “I don’t see how limiting the discussion between employers and employees, particularly on hiring decisions, is going to help anybody.”

But backers said provisions to hike penalties and damages companies have to pay will make employers more careful in decisions.

“Under existing law, damages are too insubstantial to provide women with the full restitution or provide bad acting companies a meaningful deterrent,” Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the bill’s sponsor, said.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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