Democratic candidate Kamala Harris unveils plan to close gender pay gap: "There will be penalties"

The proposal seeks to put the onus on companies, and not their employees, to enforce equal pay

Published May 20, 2019 2:50PM (EDT)

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (Getty/Mason Trinca)
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (Getty/Mason Trinca)

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled a new plan to close the gender pay gap by fining companies who fail to certify they are paying men and women equally for comparable work.

The proposal seeks to change where the onus falls in the current system by shifting the burden from workers, who are now required to prove discrimination by employers, to companies, who would be forced to disclose data on equal pay every two years to demonstrate they were complying with new standards.

"For too long, we've put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits that are increasingly difficult to prove," Harris' campaign said Monday. "We've let corporations hide their wage gaps but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned."

Harris previewed her plan to eliminate the gender pay gap at a Sunday town hall in Los Angeles and officially pulled the curtain down Monday on her ideas.

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau on pay disparities between men and women, which is not based on analogous work, shows the average woman working full time makes 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man in 2017. That disparity was significantly wider for women of color.

If elected, Harris said she would require all companies to obtain an "Equal Pay Certification" from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To receive the certification, companies would have to prove they are paying employees equally for work of equal value, regardless of gender.

The EEOC would be required to fine all companies that do not meet the pay certification standards — 1 percent of their profits for every 1 percent difference in pay between men and women that exists after accounting for differences in job titles, experience and performance. The government would use the money collected through the fines to help finance universal paid family and medical leave. The lack of paid leave, the campaign argues, contributes to the wage gap and widens the gap between women's and men's earnings.

"It's an outrage new mothers are penalized for taking time off to care for their kids. It's an outrage the wage gap has barely budged this entire century," Harris wrote Monday on Twitter . "Let's change that."

Harris wants the plan to be codified through a law approved by Congress. Although, if Congress fails to act, she said she would use executive action to apply the proposal's standards to federal contractors, prohibiting companies that fail to obtain an "equal pay certification" from competing for federal contracts valued at more than $500,000.

Harris, who made history in 2016 as the first biracial woman, the first Indian-American woman and the second black woman to be elected to serve in the U.S. Senate, announced her 2020 presidential bid on Jan. 21, coinciding with Martin Luther King Day. Since announcing her presidential bid, the freshman senator has highlighted her long record as a prosecutor who has worked tirelessly to ensure that "the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected." She has surged to the front of a Democratic field that currently includes more than 20 candidates.

By Shira Tarlo

MORE FROM Shira Tarlo