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Statement of Jacqueline A. Berrien
Chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
June 10, 2013
50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act was signed by President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago today. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibited pay disparities between men and women in jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility and that are performed under similar conditions within the same establishment. In 1963 the average woman earned only 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man. When President Kennedy signed the EPA on June 10, 1963, he stated that the Act "affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force, they will find equality in their pay envelopes."

Much has changed for working women since 1963. For example, "help wanted" advertisements directed to applicants of a specific sex are no longer commonplace. Women are about half of the paid workforce today, but in 1963 only 25 percent of married women with children and 35 percent of all women worked outside the home. And in January of this year, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted combat restrictions on women in the nation's Armed Forces, ending one of the most pervasive sex-based occupational exclusions in the 21st century workforce.

The EEOC has recovered millions of dollars for victims of unlawful pay discrimination since we opened our doors in 1965. In just one case -- EEOC and Schieffelin v. Morgan Stanley &Company, Inc.. -- the agency negotiated a $54 million settlement of a lawsuit alleging that women were paid less than similarly situated men. The Commission has also issued enforcement guidance on unlawful disparate treatment of workers with caregiving responsibilities and on the application of equal pay laws to top employees of collegiate athletic programs. And as part of the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force created by President Obama in 2010 to "crack down on violations of equal pay laws," we collaborate regularly with our federal government partners, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel. For example, since the Task Force was formed, EEOC conducted training programs that reached more than 2,000 employees of federal, state and local governments, with the goal of improving identification, investigation and remediation of pay discrimination.

Although the progress of the last 50 years is undeniable, pay discrimination stubbornly persists in the United States of America. In 2012 the Department of Labor reported that, on average, women earned 77 percent of men's wages, and for African American women and Latinas, the wage gap is even larger. The research center Catalyst has estimated that if our future progress in closing the wage gap proceeds at the same pace as the half century since passage of the Equal Pay Act , the gap between men's and women's earnings will not close completely until 2057.

Consequently, the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2013-2016 prioritizes enforcement of equal pay laws and work to end discriminatory compensation systems and practices. This commitment in the Strategic Enforcement Plan builds upon earlier agency efforts to end and remedy unlawful compensation discrimination. For example, in Fiscal Year 2012, the EEOC obtained over $24 million in relief for victims of gender-based wage discrimination through administrative enforcement and litigation.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which overturned the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and restored the legal interpretation concerning timeliness of pay discrimination charges that the EEOC had championed for decades. When he signed the Ledbetter Act, President Obama said: "I intend to send a clear message . . . [t]hat there are no second class citizens in our workplaces." That is the EEOC's goal as well.

As stated in our Strategic Plan, the EEOC's mission is stopping and remedying unlawful workplace discrimination. For the past 48 years, EEOC has been a leading enforcer of the nation's laws prohibiting pay discrimination. As we observe the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's signing of the Equal Pay Act today, let us recommit to vigorously enforcing our nation's pay discrimination laws and to working with public and private sector employers to foster voluntary compliance with those laws.