Mikulski, DeLauro Call on Obama Administration to Ban Retaliation by Government Contractors Against Employees who Discuss Salary

Request for Executive Order Follows Reintroduction of Paycheck Fairness Act to Ensure Equal Pay for Equal Work

Mikulski and DeLauro, Congressional Advocates in the Fight for Equal Pay, Urge Action on Fourth Anniversary of Lilly Ledbetter Signing

January 29, 2013

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Dean of the Senate women, along with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) today called on the Obama Administration to issue an executive order prohibiting government contractors from retaliating against their employees who disclose salary information. Their letter to President Obama, available here, follows their reintroduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation which would prohibit employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers. Under current law employers can sue and punish employees for sharing such information.    

"Women fight every day for equal pay. When they do, they're sidelined, redlined or even pink slipped," Senator Mikulski said. "Right now in the marketplace it is legal to fire a woman if she asks about her pay, whether she goes to the personnel director or if she asks the person next to her at the water cooler. While we work to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress, we have to make sure that contractors doing business with the United States government are not retaliating against hardworking Americans for discussing salary information. This is unfair and it's un-American."  

"Until Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act, the least our own government can do is set the right tone by expecting compliance from folks with whom we do business," DeLauro said.  "Ensuring women are paid equally for doing the same jobs as their husbands and brothers will help our economy, putting more money back into the pockets of hardworking Americans."  

President Obama's first bill, signed into law on January 29, 2009, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the 180-day statute of limitations for women to contest pay discrimination. It was an important down-payment in ending the pay gap and keeping the courthouse doors open. In his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, President Obama called for equal pay for equal work once and for all. The Paycheck Fairness Act will close the loopholes that allow pay discrimination to continue in the first place and, with Ledbetter, provide employees the rights they need to challenge and eliminate pay discriminate in the workplace.  

The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen and update the Equal Pay Act, signed into law 50 years ago this June.  Specifically, it:

- Requires employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender;

- Prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers;

- Strengthens the remedies available to wronged employees;

- Empowers women in the workplace through a grant program to strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills;

- Requires the Department of Labor enhance outreach and training efforts to eliminate pay disparities.  

The letter from Senator Mikulski and Congresswoman DeLauro to President Obama follows:  

January 29, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500  

Dear President Obama:

We are writing to request that you sign an Executive Order that would prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against workers who share information about their own pay.

Four years ago we took an important step with the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which kept the courthouse door open to allow workers to challenge pay discrimination.  Your strong leadership was essential to making this happen.  As you made clear in your inaugural address, our job of ensuring women receive fair pay will not be complete "until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts."   With women earning 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, and the gap even larger for women of color, our work is far from finished.

That is why we recently reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Your support for this common sense solution to the lingering problem of pay inequity has been critical.  But we know that women and their families cannot wait any longer for progress to finally be made on a wage gap that has not budged in a decade.  An Executive Order focused on the gender gap in federal contracting would greatly enhance millions of employees' ability to learn about wage disparities and provide workers with much-needed certainty that their livelihoods would not be at stake if they discuss their wages.

As we mark the anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act today, we are reminded why addressing punitive pay secrecy policies are so important.  After working for Goodyear, a federal contractor, for nearly 20 years Lilly Ledbetter learned that she was paid as much as 40 percent less than her male coworkers.  Goodyear had a policy prohibiting employees from discussing their wages; Lilly only learned of her pay discrimination when she received an anonymous note revealing the salaries of her male counterparts.  A 2010 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research shows that Lilly Ledbetter's story happens all too often.  That survey found that almost a quarter of private-sector employees work in settings with formal policies against discussing salary information and/or where workers can be punished for discussing their salaries. And over 61 percent of the private-sector workers surveyed reported that discussing their wages is either prohibited or discouraged. 

It is critical that we continue to press for the comprehensive and lasting reforms in the Paycheck Fairness Act.  But as we move forward on this important bill, we urge you to ensure contractors who have the privilege of doing business with the federal government cannot retaliate against workers who discuss their own pay.

We thank you for considering our request.  We look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve economic security for women and their families.