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Kamala Harris would toughen penalties on employers who underpay women

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris released a plan Monday to overhaul U.S. discrimination laws to ensure women and men are paid equally for the same work.

Companies would be required to obtain a federal certification showing they are not underpaying women, under Harris' proposal. Those that fail to do so could be fined billions of dollars.

Employers would have to show that any gap in pay between women and men is based on merit, performance or seniority. Companies that discriminate against women would be fined at 1% of their average daily profits for every 1% gap that exists between the pay of male and female employees doing the same job.

The junior senator from California provided the broad outlines of the proposal Sunday at a rally of roughly 1,000 supporters at Southwest College in South L.A. She told them that women who work full time are paid on average 80 cents for every dollar paid to men; for black women, 61 cents; and for Latinas, 53 cents.

"This has got to end, and it is an outrage," she told the crowd, prompting a roar of cheers. She released details of the proposal Monday morning.

Harris' gathering of volunteers and other backers in the college gymnasium was her first public campaign stop in Los Angeles since she launched her run for president in January at a rally in Oakland.

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Harris' pay equity proposal comes at a time when women are a crucial constituency in the Democratic contest. After months of debate over discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, women strongly favored Democrats in the November midterm election, and record numbers of women were swept into office.

Harris said her plan was aimed at strengthening protections against discrimination by shifting the burden of proof from women -- who sometimes have to file lawsuits to get equal pay -- to the companies that employ them.

Donna Malamud of Venice, a Democratic volunteer at the rally, welcomed the idea.

"It's ridiculous that women make less than men in every single field," she said.

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