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Ranking Member Cole Hearing Remarks on H.R. 7 and H.R. 1195

As delivered during today’s House Rules Committee hearing on H.R. 7 and H.R. 1195:

Today’s hearing covers two bills coming out of the Education and Labor Committee. 

The first bill I’ll address, H.R. 7, is known as the Paycheck Fairness Act. Unfortunately, this bill is a very blunt instrument being used to address a complex issue. It is a bill written by trial lawyers, for the benefit of trial lawyers and will ultimately end up causing much bigger problems for employers and employees alike.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is intended to address the gender pay gap, which reveals that, on average, women receive lower pay than men. But the causes of this problem are deeply complex and results from a wide variety of factors not addressed by today’s legislation, including decisions made by individuals about educational paths, career choices and whether to leave the workforce to raise children. Attributing the entirety of this complex problem to workplace discrimination is simply not warranted.

If the majority’s goal is to ensure that it is illegal for an employer to pay employees differing salaries based on gender, then they are in luck: that is already the law of the land. Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, gender-based wage discrimination has been illegal in the United States, as it should be. 

But today’s bill goes much further than the Equal Pay Act, and it does so in a way that will only benefit one specific class of people: trial lawyers, at the expense of working women.  The Paycheck Fairness Act makes changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act to make it harder for employers to present a bona fide factor defense to a claim of wage discrimination. 

It also substantially increases the monetary damages that are available for such claims, including penalty mechanisms and punitive damages. With these increased damages and reduced ability to offer a defense, employers could be subjected to nearly unlimited damages even for inadvertent or unintentional pay disparities. And since lawyers who bring lawsuits under the Equal Pay Act are allowed to recover a reasonable attorney’s fee, which can be a percentage of the recovery, the enhanced damages provide strong incentives for lawyers to bring such claims, whether they are warranted or not. This is a recipe for a massive increase in litigation without corresponding benefits for working women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act may be well-intentioned, but it is ultimately an overly simplistic solution to a complicated issue, and it will ultimately cause more harm than good. I strongly urge the majority to rethink this course.

The second item I’ll address is H.R. 1195, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care Social Services Workers Act. The bill is intended to address workplace violence for health care workers and social service workers and to ensure that OSHA issues an appropriate regulation to address the problem, which, as the Chairman said, is a “very real problem.”

As the hearing in the Education and Labor Committee demonstrated, there are still clear disagreements about this bill. In particular, Republicans on that committee have expressed concerns that this bill is overly prescriptive and will force a truncated regulatory process that may not be appropriate. While I am supportive of this bill, quite frankly, I would also be supportive of the Republican alternative as proposed during the markup. I look forward to hearing from my colleagues both about this bill and the proposed Republican alternative during our hearing today.
 

But let me reiterate that I agree with the Chairman. This is a very real problem, and I’m pleased both sides have ideas about how to address it. Hopefully we can work through that and end up with a good solution. 
 

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