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Harry Reid: Jill Abramson's Firing Shows We Need Equal Pay Law

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Bill Clark via Getty Images
Bill Clark via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) renewed his call for legislation that would protect women from pay discrimination Thursday, pointing to the experience of recently ousted New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson.

"This is an issue that is more than just something that takes place away from the madding crowds," said Reid on the Senate floor. "Look what happened, it appears, in The New York Times. The woman that ran that newspaper was fired yesterday. Why? It's now in the press that because she complained she was doing the same work as men in two different jobs and made a lot less money than they did. That's why we need this legislation."

Reid was referencing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit retaliation against employees who share their salary information with each other. Supporters say the bill would eliminate the culture of silence that keeps women in the dark about pay discrimination. But Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked the measure, arguing that it will simply result in more lawsuits against employers.

According to the Census Bureau, women who work full-time earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar men earn in a year. There is even a gap between men and women who are working in the same jobs, with the same education and experience levels.

Abramson was the paper's first female executive editor, and she held the job for less than three years before she was abruptly terminated Wednesday. Shortly after the news broke about her departure, The New Yorker reported that Abramson had recently "discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs."

A New York Times spokeswoman denied the charge, but her statement kept changing, leading to further speculation about what had happened.

In a memo sent to staff Thursday, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., further tried to clear the air.

"It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors," Sulzberger wrote.

"Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors," he continued. "In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010. It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year."

Sulzberger has insisted Abramson's firing was due to "an issue with management in the newsroom."

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