As a proposed solution to a definite problem, equal pay legislation is frustratingly indirect. Yet with women nationwide taking home an average of 79 cents for every dollar men earn — and with Louisiana women faring worst in the nation, earning just 65 cents on the dollar — even an imperfect attempt to rectify the discrepancy is in order.
So says Gov. John Bel Edwards, who campaigned on the issue and has made it a top legislative priority. And by a surprisingly comfortable 28-10 margin, so said the state Senate Tuesday.
In order to make the bill palatable to the majority of senators, its author, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, started off with a relatively modest measure and gladly amended it to meet many of the concerns voiced by business interests.
For women who seek fair treatment, there’s still some good stuff in there. There’s a process that should settle many disputes without forcing an aggrieved employee to go directly to court. There’s three years back pay if, but only if, she sues and wins.
There’s also plenty that should take the edge off concerns that the measure would create an overly litigious environment. Employers would have 60 days to resolve a dispute internally. Women who bring action would have to do the same work as men to whom their pay is compared, not equivalent, which is a vaguer measure. The losing side in any lawsuit would have to pay the winner’s legal costs, as determined by a judge. Only employers with at least 50 employees would be subject to the law.
The bill faces a rougher ride in the House, but Morrell said the changes should satisfy skeptics there, too.
“Everything that concerned (the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) and small business was addressed, every issue was addressed,” he said after the vote.
Yet in its daily legislative digest, LABI reiterated its opposition to the measure it still says is “misrepresented as equal pay legislation,” and said it still “opposes this bill because current federal and state laws already remedy the discrimination this bill seeks to address.”
Despite those existing laws, though, the pay gap persists, and that’s reason enough to explore additional solutions. Because whatever’s on the books now clearly isn’t cutting it.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.