2015 State Equal Pay Legislation by the NumbersAugust 20, 2015
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Update, October 21, 2015: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed Senate Bill 1 into law, expanding state equal pay laws to close loopholes employers currently use to defend unfair wage practices and increase the penalty for violating this law. It also prohibits employers from requiring workers to keep their pay rates secret.
Update, October 11, 2015: Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) vetoed two bills that would have further strengthened California’s equal pay law, augmenting the newly enacted SB 358. The first state assembly bill (AB 1017) would have prohibited employers from asking about a potential hire’s prior salary history, while the second (AB 1354) would have required contractors working in the state to comply with a pay nondiscrimination program.
Update, October 6, 2015: Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed SB 358 into law at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park surrounded by advocates, including the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), and AAUW of California members. With the signing of this legislation, California now has one of the strongest equal pay laws in the nation.
Update, August 20, 2015: Hours after this blog was published, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) signed House Bill 3619 into law, expanding state equal pay laws to cover more employers and increase penalties against second- and third-time offenders of pay discrimination.
As most of the 2015 state legislative sessions around the country draw to a close, four states are celebrating equal pay wins, with two more hoping that their governors sign on to the bills they passed. Meanwhile, two other states still have exciting equal pay legislation pending. Here’s a brief recap of the action.
4 States Approve New Laws to Fight Gender Pay Discrimination
Four states passed much-needed reforms to their equal pay laws.
Governors in Connecticut, Delaware, North Dakota, and Oregon signed into law measures aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap. These new laws make it harder for employers to use non-work-related defenses to defeat pay discrimination claims (North Dakota); prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who discuss their wages (Connecticut, Oregon) or who are involved in proceedings to fix pay discrimination (Oregon); increase remedies paid to victims of discrimination (Connecticut); and require contractors to pay all employees equally (Delaware).
2 States Await Gubernatorial Signatures
As of mid-August, the Illinois and New York legislatures had passed equal pay bills that are still awaiting signatures from the states’ governors.
If signed, Illinois House Bill 3619 would expand existing equal pay laws (which only apply to employers with more than four employees) to cover all employers, regardless of how many workers they employ. The new law would also increase penalties against second- and third-time offenders of pay discrimination. New York Senate Bill 1 would strengthen existing law prohibiting gender-based pay differentials by closing loopholes employers currently use to defend unfair wage practices. It would also increase the penalty for violating this law and prohibit employers from requiring workers to keep their pay rates secret.
2 States Still Working to Pass Equal Pay Legislation This Year
California and Massachusetts have longer legislative sessions, and several equal pay bills are still in play in these states.
If passed, these bills could help close the gender pay gap in new and useful ways.
California has a trio of equal pay bills moving through the legislature. All three have passed the first chamber as well as committee in the second chamber. Assembly Bill 1017 would prohibit employers from asking about a potential hire’s prior salary history. If enacted, it would be the first state law of its kind. Assembly Bill 1354 would require contractors working in the state to comply with a pay nondiscrimination program. Finally, Senate Bill 358 would clarify employer defenses to pay discrimination claims and prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who are involved in proceedings to enforce these protections.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has two identical equal pay bills pending, both of which have passed committee in the first chamber. Massachusetts House Bill 1733 and Senate Bill 983 have many provisions similar to the bills pending in California, including prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees who are involved in proceedings to enforce equal pay protections and barring employers from asking about a potential hire’s prior salary history. The Massachusetts bills would also require pay regulations to be posted in public work spaces and clarify employer defenses to claims. One unique feature of the Massachusetts bills is the establishment of a “rebuttable presumption” of innocence — meaning that if the employer has taken certain defined steps toward eliminating wage differentials based on gender, courts will presume that the employer is innocent unless contrary evidence is supplied. This provision would act as a carrot to incentivize employers to curb wage discrimination and close the pay gap in return for minimizing their potential for liability.
21 States Are Stalled
During the 2015 session, at least 21 other states proposed equal pay bills that were ultimately defeated.
Of those attempts, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington succeeded in getting equal pay bills through their first chamber, which is a good sign for action in the next legislative session. We’ll keep an eye on these proposals and look for them to be reintroduced.
AAUW is committed to helping members advance equal pay legislation in their states. An updated edition of our report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, will be released in mid-September with new analysis of state equal pay laws. Look for other resources related to this topic as the 2016 legislative sessions approach.
Until a federal law is passed, states will continue operating under piecemeal laws to combat unequal pay.
Learn more about AAUW’s public policy priorities and legislation in your state.
Read about a harmful legislative tactic to revoke paid sick days, minimum wage, and other laws helping women.