BATON ROUGE -- The Louisiana Senate passed a bill that would require many private employers to compensate men and women equally for the same work. Opponents, however, argue the bill would not only contradict federal and state laws prohibiting the discrimination addressed in the proposed bill, but it would open a floodgate of lawsuits.
The proposed bill, SB 254, sponsored by Sen. JP Morrell (D-New Orleans), passed by a 28-10 vote on April 12 after an extensive amendment by Morrell.
“LLAW fully supports equal pay, and the current state and federal laws that are already in place to protect working women,” Melissa Landry, executive director for Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), told the Louisiana Record. “However, SB 254 is about generating lawsuits, not equal pay.”
The bill gives an employer 60 days to either refute an allegation of unequal pay or start paying the employee equally.
If the employer does not take action, the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights may be asked to look at the case and determine an appropriate resolution. If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome, he or she can proceed to file a lawsuit.
Before the bill passed, Morrell removed the term “comparison” after the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) expressed concern that the term was too vague and would encourage lawsuits that called judges to determine the meaning of actual tasks.
Morrell also amended the bill to apply to private companies with more than 50 employees and removed a provision requiring liquidated damages in rulings favoring employees.
Landry, however, believes the proposed bill targets employers and places them in a precarious position.
“SB 254 would expand the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits, increase the potential payouts for plaintiffs and their attorneys, and make it much more difficult for employers to defend themselves by adding subjective language to existing law,” she said.
In 2013, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act into law, an important step forward toward achieving equal pay for the women in the state.
The law only applies to state employees, and requires the state to pay woman who perform public service the same compensation as their male counterparts performing the same “kind, grade and quality of service.”
The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act resembles the federal Equal Pay Act.
Louisiana has the largest pay gap in the country with women in Louisiana earning 65 cents on average for every dollar a man earns, compared to a national average of 79 cents, according to the governor’s office.
Landry said SB 254 seems to favor attorneys more than it does women.
“While it is clear SB 254 would lead to more unnecessary litigation and big payouts for personal injury trial lawyers, it is hard to see how it would actually help working women,” Landry said.
SB 254 has been referred to the Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations in the House.