Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) faced criticism on Wednesday after he claimed a woman colleague did not fully understand his proposed amendment to the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The bill, intended to eliminate gender-based pay disparities, passed the House of Representatives Wednesday evening, 242-187. All 187 “no” votes came from Republicans. Only eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill.
Byrne’s comments came earlier in the day, after Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), speaking from the House floor, urged her colleagues to vote no on the congressman’s proposed amendment to that legislation, which would have changed the language in one part of the bill from requiring businesses to show that any pay disparities between employees doing the same work are due to “any other factor other than sex” to “a bona fide business-related reason other than sex.”
“I think it’s important, given that we’re having a discussion here over who understands the text of the bill, to read it directly into the record,” she said, before reciting the relevant portion of the bill in question. “…It’s very clearly set forth in the text, and I would therefore continue to urge my colleagues to vote no on the Byrne amendment.”
Byrne responded by questioning Wild’s competence. “Mr. Chairman, I have great respect for the lady. I don’t think she understands what that language actually means, and how it’s actually been interpreted by the courts and how it may be totally misinterpreted against plaintiffs in…lawsuits,” he said. “What my amendment does is actually strengthen the hand of parties that have a clear understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish…. It’s an improvement in the bill for plaintiffs and defendants. We should all be for this.”
He added, “I don’t want to go tit for tat with her on everything, but I think she misunderstands the amendment and the underlying bill.”
— Colin Seeberger (@CMSeeberger) March 27, 2019
Wild, a longtime attorney who represents Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, responded in kind.
“I think it is my colleague from Alabama who is confused about the wording of this text,” she said. “His amendment would specifically eliminate the wording that I just read into the record.”
Byrne’s amendment was later rejected on a voice vote.
Versions of this bill have been introduced since the 1990s, but have consistently failed to pass both chambers of Congress. The latest version was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in January.
The legislation aims to close the gender pay gap between men and women and would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who discuss their wages. It would also prohibit employers from seeking the salary history of new hires, and would create a negotiation skills training program which would allow women and girls to further improve their abilities to bargain for higher wages.
“By short-changing working women, some employers are preventing families from receiving a full salary—which could be used to feed their family, get their kids lifesaving medical care, or pay the rent or mortgage,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement when the legislation was first introduced. “I’m proud to help reintroduce this bill in the new Congress. The gender pay gap can only be rightfully addressed if women are empowered to negotiate for equal pay, and our bill gives working women the tools they need to push back against systemic wage discrimination.”
Byrne, for his part, has claimed previously that the legislation would open the door for trial lawyers to pursue “unlimited” litigation for pay bias claims and would increase the amount of monetary damage that can be paid out.
The bill goes to the Senate next where it is expected to face significant pushback from Republicans.