Abbott backed into a corner on equal pay

03/20/2014 5:48 PM

03/21/2014 1:34 PM

Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has let himself be out-wrestled on the sensitive issue of equal pay for equal work by Texas women.

His answer, according to a statement Wednesday from his campaign staff, is that women in the Lone Star State who are victims of employment discrimination can turn to the federal government for help.

As governor, he would veto any bill to provide as much help through state courts.

Abbott, remember, is “one of the nation’s leading advocates for stopping the federal overreach of the Obama Administration.” That’s the administration responsible for passing the law that helps victims of pay discrimination recover damages in federal court.

Now Abbott has made himself look like someone who either doesn’t care about Texas women who are paid less than men for similar work or who believes that his federal arch-enemy has done such a good job that Texas can’t make things any better.

The person who pushed him into this unfavorable position is his Democrat gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth.

No one can say how many political points that scores for Davis. The election is still more than seven months away.

But clearly, Abbott doesn’t want to let this sort of thing happen often if he is to succeed in November.

He really didn’t have a good way out this time. He probably did the best he could by coming out with a definitive stand and hoping the issue soon gets crowded out by others more to his favor.

Davis has been pushing equal pay for weeks. She was the Senate sponsor of a bill in last year’s legislative session that would have changed state law to mirror the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

The Texas bill passed by a respectable margin in the House but by only one vote in the Senate. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, saying that plenty of federal protection is available.

The purpose of the bill, Davis and others said, was to make state law conform with federal law and give Texans who have faced pay discrimination the opportunity to take a quicker, less expensive path and right such wrongs through state courts.

Lilly Ledbetter was an area manager for Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., from 1979 until she retired in 1998. After retirement, she filed charges of pay discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At the end of 1997, federal court records show, Ledbetter was making $44,724 a year, while the 15 men working as area managers were paid $6,700 to $18,100 more for substantially similar work.

But federal law at the time required anyone alleging employment discrimination to file a complaint within 180 days of a discriminatory act. An appeals court denied Ledbetter’s claim, saying she should have complained immediately when Goodyear adjusted her salary but failed to make it commensurate with that of her male peers.

Ledbetter lost her case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.

The 2009 federal law said pay discrimination occurs not just when a compensation amount is set but any time someone is issued a paycheck resulting from a discriminatory decision.

A change like that in Texas would allow more people to take their employers to court and collect up to two years of back pay.

Abbott could say it’s good to block those cases, but only if he says all such claims are frivolous.

About Mike Norman

Mike Norman

@mnorman9

Take an issue that's full of sometimes-complicated details like Texas public school finance, throw in an element of urgency like the need for better transportation solutions in Dallas-Fort Worth, add a healthy helping of local interest spiced with some controversy and you have the perfect assignment for Mike Norman to examine in depth. Mike is the newspaper's editorial director.

Email Mike at mnorman@star-telegram.com.

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