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Musing on fairness

Earlier this week, Maine's two senators -- both of whom are female, in case you've forgotten, voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have, among other things: a) prevented employers from retaliating against employees who complain or inquire about pay inequity; b) made employers who violate sex discrimination prohibitions liable in court; and c) encouraged grants to fund negotiation-skills training for women and girls. It also would have required employers to prove that pay differences were the result of legitimate factors such as performance or experiences, as opposed to gender discrimination.

Basically, the bill would have given teeth to the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expanded workers' rights to sue for equal pay for equal work. Maine Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both supported that bill. 

In a statement, Collins explained Tuesday's vote using the same excuse that Ledbetter opponents used a few years ago -- the looming threat of millions of lawsuits:  "I support equal pay for equal work. I remain concerned that this particular legislation would unnecessarily expose the small business community to excessive litigation, and impose increased costs and restrictions on businesses that are already struggling to create and maintain jobs in this difficult economic environment."

Yeah, let's ignore gender discrimination because addressing it may hurt the economy...WHAT?

Let's continue to claim that pay inequity is all in the heads of Democrats and women.

"I think that pay discrimination, based on my experiences, does exist," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Bellows said that she experienced sexist pay discrimination on two occasions (both times it was addressed and rectified). "Sometimes it's unintentional, sometimes it's a result of outmoded gender stereotypes, and sometimes it's a function of negotiation." But whatever the reason, "employers bear a responsibility to treat their employees fairly. The real challenge is, how can you fix the problem if you are prohibited from asking about salary discrepancies or have a fear of losing your job because of such inquiries?" 

No word yet on whether Snowe and Collins plan to forfeit 23 percent of their salaries (common estimate is that women earn 77 percent of what men do for the same work) -- to put their money where their votes are. 

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