A pending Senate bill targeting gender-based pay discrimination would apply to the federal workplace along with the private sector and other employers, although the reported pay gap among federal employees is narrower than in the nation as a whole.


The Senate plans to vote Tuesday on whether to proceed to the Paycheck Fairness Act, whose sponsors cite data showing that on average, women make just 77 cents for every dollar paid to a man for equal or comparable work.

Most of the bill’s provisions would apply to the federal government as an employer. The bill would impose a higher legal standard on employers trying to argue that they have legitimate reasons for differences in pay by gender for comparable work. It also would broaden the rules allowing for class-action complaints and expand the financial relief that victims could seek, among other changes. However, it would exempt the government from a provision allowing for punitive damages against employers.

The White House on Monday issued a statement supporting the bill, saying the measure “would provide more effective remedies for women subjected to discriminatory pay practices.”

Last yea,r the Obama administration sent a memo to federal employees promising “the most rigorous possible enforcement” of equal pay laws within the federal government. The memo, from the heads of the Office of Personnel Management and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that “clearly much work remains to be done in order to close the wage gap.”

The memo cited data from a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office showing that the gender pay gap in the federal workforce was 28 cents on the dollar in 1988, 19 cents in 1998 and 11 cents in 2007. GAO said that all but 7 cents of the 2007 gap was explainable by men being concentrated in higher-paying occupations “and, to a lesser extent, other factors such as years of federal experience and level of education.”

The pay gap narrowed over the years as men and women in the federal workforce increasingly shared similar characteristics in terms of the jobs they held, their educational attainment and their working experience, the report said.

GAO added that its study “neither confirms nor refutes the presence of discriminatory practices” on pay in the government.

The salary rate for a federal job is set by how the job is classified within the government’s pay scales and is the same regardless of the employee’s gender. EEOC data show, however, that while women make up 44 percent of the overall federal workforce, they are overrepresented at lower levels and underrepresented at senior levels.

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