Desperate to find a lifeline, the struggling Wendy Davis for Governor campaign, staffed primarily by out-of-state Obama operatives, resurrected a tired national wedge issue: equal pay.
After two weeks of hyperventilating media coverage in the Texas media, I presume you have some awareness of this issue.
Let’s put five basic facts out on the table:
1) Gender-based pay discrimination is against the law. President Barack Obama and Congress acted to expand existing law at the federal level in 2009.
2) The Texas Constitution already outlaws gender-based discrimination (Article 1, Section 3a, known as the Texas Equal Rights Amendment). The Texas Labor Code specifically outlaws gender-based pay discrimination (Section 21.051), saying that where gender is concerned, it is illegal for an employer who “fails or refuses to hire an individual, discharges an individual, or discriminates in any other manner against an individual in connection with compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”
3) The Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Commission already works with the federal government to investigate alleged discrimination.
4) Since 1995, Texas Labor Code Section 21.126 has provided that certain state and local public employees are able to file suit, under these provisions. Government Code Section 659.001 says, a “woman who performs public service for this state is entitled to be paid the same compensation for her service as is paid to a man who performs the same kind, grade, and quantity of service, and a distinction in compensation may not be made because of sex.”
5) Many large retailers, some of the largest employers in Texas, including Macy’s, asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto a state law in 2013 that would have duplicated federal law, arguing that current legal remedies were sufficient.
Perry did veto the legislation.
Here is what his veto statement said:
“Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”
But even more impressive, to me, is what three specific (Republican) women have said:
Sen. Jane Nelson: “The Democrats are focusing on wedge issues while Republicans are creating jobs and economic opportunities for women. Wage discrimination is already against the law, and HB 950 created a redundant legal process.”
Sen. Joan Huffman: “As a woman, I firmly believe that there should never be pay discrimination on the basis of gender. As a former judge, I know that Texans who believe they have suffered pay discrimination on the basis of gender have remedies under both state and federal law. … Simply put, a new state law was unnecessary to address wage discrimination claims, which is why Governor Perry did the right thing in vetoing HB 950.”
Rep. Lois Kolkhorst: “As a business owner and employer, I am committed to ensuring that Texans are treated equitably in the workplace, especially women. Because of my direct knowledge and experience running a business, I know firsthand that HB 950 — a bill that Senator Davis carried and the governor vetoed — was not a good law for any employer in Texas. We, as women, have and will continue to earn our way and prove our worth in the workplace. Texans are already protected by the state constitution, federal law and state law against wage discrimination. Telling the public otherwise is a disservice to many employers who are women, the very ones who know the challenges of owning a business and who do what’s right for their employees everyday without frivolous laws being imposed.”
Are we to believe that these women are against equal pay?
The specific legislation passed in 2013 would have created an entirely new way for alleged victims to file lawsuits, which would lead to a huge payday for trial lawyers, with limited or even no additional benefits for victims of discrimination.
Employers could be liable for alleged discrimination that may have occurred many decades before, with management that is no longer there and records that could be incomplete.
Even Davis’ two-person law firm defended a client who was accused of gender-based pay discrimination. You read that right.
Duplicative laws are not necessary. No one opposes equal pay for equal work.
Let’s set aside phony wedge issues and return to a gubernatorial campaign worthy of our great state.
Matt Mackowiak is a syndicated columnist, an Austin- and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group LLC.
This op-ed was originally published by the Austin American-Statesman.