State Senator Wendy Davis Wants To Bring Federal Fair Pay Laws for Women To Texas
There was an interesting, widely under-reported battle going on in the state legislature this morning, and it hinged around consistently badass Fort Worth state Senator Wendy Davis. Back in January, Davis filed SB 248, a bill that would bring the Lilly Ledbetter Act to Texas. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into federal law in 2009, the first bill of President Obama's administration. It makes it easier for employees to file pay discrimination complaints by extending the period of time in which they can do so; it's named after a woman who unsuccessfully sued Goodyear for pay discrimination, and is meant to help address the persistent pay gap between men and women. (Interesting to note, though: the average wage gap in Texas is actually slightly smaller than in many other U.S. states. We rank 12th in the country for pay equity, with an average gap of 18 cents or so, versus the 23-cent national average.)
As former Observer-er Andrea Grimes reports at RH Reality Check, supporters gathered in Austin this morning to testify on behalf of Davis's bill in front of the Senate's Committee on Economic Development. One of them was Tiffany Bishop, a U.S. Navy veteran who came to work at a Texas call center after serving in Iraq.
When Bishop compared notes with a male coworker and learned that she earned less than him, Grimes writes, she filed a complaint. She was promptly disciplined for doing so. Her male coworker was disciplined too, simply for sharing his pay information.
Bishop told lawmakers that she was shocked to learn how little recourse she had under state law, which requires her to make a complaint "not later than the 180th day after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." That's a tough thing to do when you don't know it's happening, and in a climate where most employees are actively or tacitly discouraged from discussing pay information with one another.
Davis's bill, like Ledbetter, essentially re-sets the clock in filing complaints, by saying that an illegal employment practice happens each time "a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted," whenever an individual is subjected to "a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice," or whenever an individual is "adversely affected" by discriminatory compensation.
The pushback against the federal law largely came from Republican lawmakers, who argued that the bill would simply give rise to more employment lawsuits. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for one, called it "a boon to trial lawyers." Any opposition to the state law -- and we're sure there'll be plenty of it -- will likely take the same tack.
"If the military gets it, and the federal government gets it," Bishop told lawmakers this morning, "It's about time the state of Texas gets it as well."
The bill is currently pending in committee. If it makes it out of there alive, it'll soon come up for a vote in the Senate. In the meantime, to stave off any arguments in the comments section about whether pay discrimination is a real thing, here's the Texas Tribune's handy and quite comprehensive guide to the wage gap in Texas.