As Obama pushes Paycheck Fairness Act, businesses worry about ‘unlimited’ lawsuit liability

Font Size:

President Barack Obama, working hard to add the moniker “first woman president” to his list of titles, advocated swift passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act — legislation the business community largely opposes — during a conference call Monday.

Announced by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who also chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, as “a true champion for America’s women and girls” Obama spoke of the absolute necessity to pass the legislation — for more than just “fairness.”

“If Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act, women are going to have access to more tools to claim equal pay for equal work,” Obama said. “If they don’t — if Congress doesn’t act — then women are still going to have difficulty enforcing and pressing for this basic principle.”

“And we’ve got to understand this is more than just about fairness,” Obama continued. “Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they’re making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for childcare and tuition and rent, small businesses have fewer customers — everybody suffers.”

The bill comes up for a vote in the Senate Tuesday and will need 60 votes to pass. It failed to win passage in 2010; no Republicans voted for it.

“Senators from both sides of the aisle will need to come together to do the right thing,” said Jarrett Monday.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which is coming to the floor on the heels of Washington Free Beacon reports showing gender pay gaps in Senate Democratic offices and at the White House, would expand the definition of wage discrimination and allow women to compare their salaries to men in the same position and prevent retaliation for inquiring and disclosing salaries.

In late April The Hill reported that bringing the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor was a Democratic ploy to put GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the defensive with women voters.

Romney has yet to take a position on the legislation, which has been championed by feminist groups. The business community largely opposes it, claiming the law would increase the cost of business and create new vulnerabilities to frivolous lawsuits.

“The Chamber strongly supports equal employment opportunity and appropriate enforcement of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in an opposition letter. “However, this bill would, among other things, expand remedies under EPA to include unlimited punitive and compensatory damages, significantly erode employer defenses for legitimate pay disparities, and impose invalid tools for enforcement by the Labor Department.”

Follow Caroline on Twitter