Fifty years ago today, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, an anniversary marked by the White House and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with vows to close the gender gap in salaries.
"Our journey to equality is not complete until our wives, our mothers, our daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts," President Barack Obama said today. "I want every child to grow up knowing that a woman’s hard work is valued and rewarded just as much as any man’s."
When President John F. Kennedy signed the law, women earned 59 cents for every dollar made by a man. Today, it's 77 cents—and the gap for African American and Latina women is even bigger.
"Although the progress of the last 50 years is undeniable, pay discrimination remains a pressing problem for women in America," EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien said in a statement. "At the rate at which we are progressing, the gender pay gap will not close until 2057."
The EEOC has moved to speed that up via enforcement efforts. The agency has made equal pay one of six priorities in its current strategic enforcement plan.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the agency won more than $24 million in relief for victims of gender-based wage discrimination through administrative enforcement and litigation.
The EEOC, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management are all members of the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force created by President Obama in 2010 to "crack down on violations of equal pay laws."
Obama today also called for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and allow for compensatory and punitive damages. Current law only provides for up to three years of back pay—doubled if the plaintiff can prove a willful violation.
In recent years, the EEOC has recovered relatively modest amounts via equal pay litigation—$171,483 in a 2011 settlement with Amtrak; for example, or $188,000 from Hyundai Ideal Electric Co., also in 2011. The agency and the Department of Justice brought a joint action in EEOC v. Texas Department of Rural Affairs, which settled for $175,000 in 2012.
The EEOC scored a mega-win in 2004, when Morgan Stanley & Co. agreed to pay $54 million to settle charges of wage discrimination.