Texas lawmakers approve a fair pay bill

Posted Thursday, May. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A fair wage for a fair day’s work.

That’s all state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, say they want — for everyone.

That’s why they worked together to pass a bill designed to prevent pay discrimination against women, because women on the average are paid only 77 cents for every $1 earned by men for the same job.

The Texas Senate passed the bill this week, which now heads back to the House for members to approve two amendments before it goes to Gov. Rick Perry for consideration.

“This is a proud moment for Texas,” Davis said. “The Texas Senate has spoken loud and clear in its support for equal pay for equal work.

“With this victory, women who discover that they are being paid unfairly will be able to seek justice and fight back in the courts instead of being told ‘too bad, it’s too late.’”

In Texas, women are paid a little better than the national average, receiving nearly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men for the same job, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The federal law is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Alabama who didn’t know she was being paid less than men for the same work until she received an anonymous note telling her the salaries of several male managers, according to the law center.

She filed a complaint, and a jury ultimately awarded her more than $3 million. But the verdict was appealed and ultimately justices ruled that employees can’t collect for pay discrimination if the payment occurred more than 180 days earlier.

House Bill 950 would make state law mirror protections in the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, created in 2009 and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Opponents say the change opens the possibility of an unlawful practice occurring each time a discriminatory paycheck is issued. They also say it makes employers vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits and “significant” liability, reports show.

Right now in Texas, women can’t seek restitution — or file a claim — unless they learn they are being wrongly underpaid within 180 days of their first “discriminatory” paycheck.

This bill resets the 180-day period each time someone receives a discriminatory paycheck.

The two amendments the House needs to weigh in on limit equal protection rights to salaries, and not to other benefits, and stipulate that the Texas law applies only to claims that occur on or after the law takes effect.

If the House consents and Perry signs the bill into law, Texas will be the 43rd state to pass such legislation.

Fort Worth attorney Jason Smith asked Davis to carry this bill after hearing from many women who said their male counterparts were earning more. He has been deeply involved in the legislative process for the measure.

“This bill will give women the tools to actually realize their moral and legal right to equal pay,” he said.

Thompson said she has been working on on this measure for years.

After the measure passed the Senate this week, she told reporters that it was long overdue. “Women are always the last persons to get rights that other people have had for ages,” she said.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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