On Wednesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) signed the Equal Pay for Women Act into law, which would ban state agencies from paying different wages to employees of different genders with the same job.
The original bill would have extended the mandate to any employer, public or private, with 15 or more workers. It would have required equal pay for “the same or substantially similar work.” But it was heavily amended on the state Senate floor and in the end will only apply to “any department, office, division, agency, commission, board, committee, or other organizational unit of the state.”
The bill makes state employers liable for back wages and court costs if they are found to be breaking the law. It allows a woman working for the state to submit a notice of wage discrimination to her employer, who has 60 days to remedy it. If changes aren’t made, the employee can bring action against the employer with the Human Rights Commission, and if the commission can’t resolve the dispute, she can then file a civil suit.
Louisiana women make just 68.9 cents for every dollar a man in the state makes, on average. That puts the state second only to Wyoming for the largest wage gap, where women make just 66.6 cents. Women of color in Louisiana fare worse: Hispanic women make 51.6 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and African-American women make just 49.2 cents.
The measure in Louisiana follows some recent laws at the state level that address the gender wage gap. In May, Vermont enacted a bill that ensures state government contracts pay equal wages, requires employers to prove they have legitimate business reasons for paying workers unequal wages, and protects workers who discuss pay with colleagues, among other measures meant to help working women. Earlier in the year, New Mexico passed the Fair Pay For Women Act, which eases women’s ability to bring cases alleging pay discrimination. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has also been pushing a “women’s equality agenda” that includes a provision to ban retaliation against employees who share wage information and another that tightens the exceptions employers can cite for pay differentials between genders.
Yet Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) vetoed a bill on Friday that would have strengthened women’s ability to take legal action against wage discrimination.
American women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and progress in closing the gender wage gap has stalled in recent years. It was wider in 2011 than the year before, and the fast pace of change in the 1980s has slowed to a crawl, only closing by one percentage point since 2001.