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Louisiana equal pay legislation to get new life this year

February 8, 2017
By Sam Karlin
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

A New Orleans lawmaker has again filed legislation aimed at combating Louisiana’s second-worst-in-the-nation gender pay gap.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat, says his bill would allow people to bring lawsuits against their employers if a pay discrepancy is not corrected after a complaint is made. Morrell’s bill would apply the protections—currently provided to state workers—to local government workers and the private sector.

The bill will face major hurdles. Last year, an identical bill to the one Morrell filed for the upcoming regular legislative session died in a House committee, where Republicans—along with the influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry—defeated it.

Morrell says the new bill is in the same posture as last year’s failed legislation, meaning he included compromise changes made in the Senate in conjunction with some Republicans. Those changes capped the back pay and reduced employers’ exposure to lawsuits by allowing them to reconcile differences in pay disparities before going to court.

Morrell hopes the public will help drive the bill through the Legislature this year.

“When the bill was in the House committee, there was literally no public engagement that day,” Morrell says. “Post-Trump, there is a level of engagement in communities in Louisiana that did not exist last year.”

LABI still opposes the equal pay legislation. Jim Patterson, LABI’s vice president of governmental relations, says the bill would create unnecessary litigation. He also says women already have solutions available to address unequal pay.

“Jobs women tend to prefer to work in are not paid as highly as jobs that men tend to work in,” he says. “The remedy is for women to avail themselves of the opportunity to work in those types of employment.”

Patterson agrees the gender pay gap between is a “societal problem,” but says LABI is working to push young women toward high-paying STEM fields instead of changing the current laws for pay discrimination and bias.

A 2015 study from the American Association of University Women shows Louisiana trails only Wyoming in having the largest gender pay gap in the country. The AAUW says part of the reason for unequal gender pay in the U.S. stems from the types of careers women choose. The gap exists at all levels of education and at all occupations, the association says.

Most recently, a 2017 AAUW study concludes there is an “unexplained” pay gap that cannot be accounted for when controlling for college major, occupation, work hours or time spent out of the workforce, but it is smaller than the widely-cited 80% earning ratio of men to women.

In Louisiana, women’s earnings are around 68% of their male counterparts. Last year, Gov. John Bel Edwards backed the equal pay legislation, and called it a “disservice” when the House committee voted against the bill.

“If you want to attract the best, most qualified workforce,” Morrell says, “how do you lure a tremendous future Google to Louisiana if we have the stigma of being one of the most disadvantaged places in the country for pay equity?”