On Equal Pay Day

Addressing the glaring inequalities on Equal Pay Day, and highlighting the need for immediate and effective legislation to ensure fair pay, Jack Tuckner, Esq., testified at the NYC Councli on the Need for Gender Pay Equity Legislation yesterday:

I’m Jack Tuckner, of Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, LLP, Women’s Rights in the Workplace Advocates. We champion the cause of working women who find themselves in some form of diminished state within their own workplaces, simply because of their gender. Women have it tougher than men. As former Presidential Candidate Shirley Chisholm famously said, “Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black.” Pregnancy Discrimination cases are on the rise, sexual harassment and sexual abuse cases are holding their own, the glass ceiling has been replaced with steel-strength polymers and the mommy track is running all off-peak local trains to the workplace pink ghetto. Women have it tougher than men.

Last year, in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire Co., our mean-spirited majority US Supreme Court scoffed at the concept of equal pay for equal work when it showed the door to Ms. Ledbetter because she had the audacity, the sheer, unseemly discourtesy, to stand up and speak out for her right to be equal. It had nothing to do with missing the statute of limitations period 16 years before when she couldn’t have possibly known of the discrimination. And the result actually encourages litigation, as every woman who sensesshe may be paid less than men performing equal work must dash off to file a precipitous complaint just in case her hunch proves true. The magnitude of unmitigated cynicism and misogynistic leanings that would compel that kind of harmful, tortured logic is truly impressive and hard to comprehend in the absence of malice and avarice.

Our reactionary political environment is hostile to all progressive notions of fairness, equality and equal access to justice and power. Our most esteemed judicial tribunal, the Supreme Court, is openly contemptuous of an individual citizen’s right to speak truth to power, to question authority, to hold corporations accountable for their excesses, if not their crimes. As a nation, we’ve morphed from a Democracy into a Corporatocracy, as BBB’s (Big Business Behemoths), aided and abetted by our corporate media, have redistributed wealth and power upward toward itself and away from us. We’re all commodities and we’re all for sale; we’ll even sell our own teenage daughters in Girls Gone Wild videos on prime-time network television. And people of color, and the GLBT community, and people with disabilities, and people in prison for using drugs unapproved by the pharmaceutical/medical complex, all have less value. And of course, women have less value than men. Women have lower human capital than men. Women. Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our girlfriends, our selves. Women consistently suffer degraded terms and conditions of employment based on sex alone and women regularly experience corporate retaliation when they do finally have their Rosa Parks moment and refuse to accept the fate chosen for them by others.

What can we do about it? We can and must insist on legally required equal treatment. We can insist that we not be objectified at work. We can insist that our leaders must care about more than profit and loss statements, and we can insist that they appoint judges who actually heed the rule of law with a view toward determining truth and fairness. Judges who would care that the legislative intent of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII was to serve the fundamental purpose of eliminating pay discrimination, as opposed to straining for reasons to deny redress as it may actually require the administration of justice. We must bring a certainmale energy to the quest for remediation. We must be assertive, if not downright aggressive. To paraphrase Pulitzer winner Laura Thatcher Ulrich, “well-behaved women (and the men who admire them) rarely make history.

In our ongoing struggle for true economic parity between men and women, the laws are our weapons and the courts our battlefields. Without the weaponry of our laws, we lose all the battles and the war by default. We never even get to leave the house. We surrender to the vagaries and whimsy of those who would rule us. The two federal laws offering protection on the basis of sex, The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and The Civil Rights Act of 1964, are famously complicated statutes, requiring different standards, tests and shifting burdens. These laws confound even federal court judges let alone the average would-be Plaintiff or juror. In the Ledbetter decision, the Supreme Court has effectively eviscerated the law in its entirety, ruling that the Equal Pay Act is only available to those fleet-of-feet women who race to the courthouse door within 180 days of the first violation of the law. Never mind that the Court disingenuously rejected the fact that most women, such as Lilly Ledbetter, could not possibly have known of the pay violation when it first occurred, and the injustices not only continued unabated, but of course increased exponentially with each new paycheck violation over the many years. No justice for you, ungrateful, indelicate girl.

So, we need to enact new laws to empower working women replete with full wage disclosure elements as well as an enforcement mechanism with teeth. We need to continue to impolitely insist on our right to be paid equally and we must insist on expandedFamily Responsibility legal protections so men and women may share domestic and familial responsibilities as a team. TheLedbetter decision has done considerable damage already. Roughly 175 state and federal courts have already cited the decision in cases that inflict one injustice after another on individual employees and their families, and Ledbetter was just decided 11 months ago. More government largess (and corporate welfare) for needy multinational conglomerates.

The Fair Pay Restoration Act (the Senate counterpart to The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which has already passed the House) clarifies Congress’ original intent in Equal Pact Act cases that every unequal paycheck should count as a discriminatory act that supports a lawsuit under Title VII.

The NYS Fair Pay Act would provide workers in NY with a strong, enforceable state law to prohibit companies from paying employees less because of gender and race. The Act provides freedom of speech for all New York state employees regarding their salaries. Employees will be able to share salary information with co-workers without fear of reprisal. It also assures that in positions where women and people of color predominate, equal pay for work of equal value will be the rule of law. Both bills routinely pass in the federal and state House and Assembly, respectively, but stall or die before the Senate. We don’t need another “study” to determine if there’s a gender pay gap. Let’s continue to use our charms and powers of persuasion to convince those within our circles of influence that it’s time for true equality. And in an expanding Corporatocracy, equality is mostly measured by the devalued US Currency that you can command.

Presented by: Jack Tuckner, Esq. Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, LLP Women’s Rights in the Workplace Advocacy 120 Broadway, 18th Floor New York, NY 10271 212.766.9100 https://womensrightsny.com [email protected]

What happened to me is not only an insult to my dignity, but it had real consequences for my ability to care for my family. Every paycheck I received, I got less than what I was entitled to under the law. The Supreme Court said that this didn’t count as illegal discrimination, but it sure feels like discrimination when you are on the receiving end of that smaller paycheck and trying to support your family with less money than the men are getting for doing the same job. And according to the Court, if you don’t figure things out right away, the company can treat you like a second-class citizen for the rest of your career. That isn’t right. : Lilly Ledbetter