April 7 2012
On Thursday, with little fanfare, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill repealing the state’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts. In doing so, he demonstrated that our political battles over women’s rights aren’t just about sex and reproduction—they extend to every aspect of women’s lives.
“This whole session has been anti-woman and anti-middle class, and this fits right in with that agenda,” says Wisconsin state representative Christine Sinicki, a Democrat who co-authored the original legislation.
The Equal Pay law wasn’t just about women—it also offered protection from discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. But it was enacted largely in response to a large gap between men and women’s compensation, one that was worse than average in Wisconsin—in 2009 the state ranked 36th in the country in terms of workplace gender parity.
Wisconsin’s law was similar to many others—indeed, almost every state in the country has anti-discrimination laws that augment federal legislation. “It’s often easier, faster, and cheaper to pursue a claim of discrimination in state court than in federal court,” says Linda Meric, national director of 9to5, an organization devoted to working-women’s issues. “The law is different in each state, but Wisconsin was certainly in the mainstream in having a law that provided remedies for employees who experienced discrimination on the job.”
To bring a suit under the law, a plaintiff first had to go through a state-level administrative process to prove discrimination. It was rigorous enough that in the two years the law was in effect, not a single equal-pay lawsuit was filed. Still, the law’s supporters believe it has been effective in spurring businesses to pay women more fairly. Thus by 2010, the state had climbed to 24th in the national gender-parity rankings, with women making 78 percent as much as men, compared to 77 percent nationally. “Since the law was put Read More >