Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), locked in a tight re-election battle, has come under fire during the campaign for repealing Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act in 2012. His response: a new television ad featuring his female lieutenant governor, dismissing the protections as nothing more than “more opportunity to sue.”
In 2009, Wisconsin enacted the enforcement law to give employees more power to challenge unfair pay practices in state courts, rather than having to go through the complicated and expensive federal judiciary. After its passage, Wisconsin women gained significant ground, according to supporters, rising in gender earnings parity (from 36th in the nation up to 24th), though they still earned an estimated $0.78 for every dollar a man earned.
But, in 2012, Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature repealed the protections. The state senator who pushed through the repeal explained at the time that women only earn less than men do because “money is more important for men.” Walker’s Democratic opponent, former Trek Bicycle executive and Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Mary Burke, has vowed to reinstate the equal pay law.
In an ad with the Orwellian title “More Opportunities to Succeed,” Walker’s Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (R) argues that because her father told her she “could do anything,” Burke’s attacks are offensive to her:
KLEEFISCH: That’s why I find it so insulting that Mary Burke would say that we’re trying to make it harder for women to earn equal pay. Under Scott Walker, workplace discrimination will always be illegal, for any reason. Mary Burke wants to create more opportunities to sue. We want to create more opportunities for women to succeed.
Watch the spot:
While employment discrimination on the basis of sex is indeed still illegal — is it prohibited by federal law in all 50 states, as well as by Wisconsin code — that does not mean that equal pay for women is easy to enforce. Steps to ban salary secrecy and make it easier for women to narrow the gap nationally have been blocked by Congressional Republicans. Without the opportunity to sue discriminatory employers, non-discrimination laws are rendered toothless.
While Kleefisch claims she and Walker want to “create more opportunities for women to succeed,” according to PolitiFact Wisconsin, they have fallen well short of their promised 250,000 new private-sector jobs in their first term, attaining only about 40 percent of that amount.