Iowa Senate passes pay equity bill

Chris Rizo Feb. 17, 2009, 12:41pm

Iowa state Capitol

DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline)-A bill advancing in the Iowa state Legislature could make it easier for women to sue if they feel they have been underpaid on the job.

The legislation cleared the state Senate on Monday on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposing the measure.

The bill -- Senate File 137-- would outlaw wage discrimination based on age, race, sexual orientation, national origin and religion as well as gender. The law would only apply to businesses with four or more employees.

Senate File 137 would give Iowans 300 days to file a wage discrimination complaint, starting from the date of the worker's last alleged discriminatory paycheck. Under current state law, the time clock begins when the allegedly discriminatory wage was set.

The bill is opposed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which argues that the proposal could lead to a bevy of lawsuits against already-struggling small businesses.

The proposal must next be passed by the House and then signed by Democratic Gov. Chet Culver before becoming state law.

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women says the Hawkeye State ranks 37th among the 50 states when it comes to pay equity for women.

Proponents say the state proposal would merely bring Iowa in line with a recently enacted federal law -- The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- which was signed last month by President Barack Obama.

The federal law overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that employees cannot challenge ongoing pay discrimination if the employer's original discriminatory pay decision occurred outside of the statute of limitations.

At the time of its signing, Obama said the law sends a clear message: "That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal -- but bad for business-- to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability."

The legislation was named for Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. because she said the company was paying here less than male employees who held similar jobs during her 20 years with the company. She was one of only a handful of female supervisors at the plant in Gadsden, Ala.

A jury sided with Ledbetter, awarding her back-pay and approximately $3.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The Supreme Court affirmed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decision, which held that Ledbetter couldn't sue under the 1964 Civil Rights Act because the alleged discrimination occurred more than 180 days before she filed her claim.

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