BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push for an equal pay bill requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work received backing Tuesday from the Louisiana Senate.
The majority-Republican Senate voted 28-10 for the bill by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, sending it to the House for consideration. All 10 opponents were GOP lawmakers. Edwards released a statement applauding Senate passage of the measure, describing it as “one of the easiest decisions we can make during this session.”
“Our wives, mothers and daughters miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime because of this wage gap. I commend the members of the Senate for their decision, and I look forward to working with legislators in the House to sign this bill into law,” the governor said.
But the proposal sought by the Democratic governor is expected to face difficulty winning passage in the more conservative House, amid opposition from business groups who say it would encourage unnecessary litigation.
Morrell agreed to a lengthy rewrite of sections of the proposal, seeking to lessen the concerns about frivolous lawsuits that could hit businesses with hefty costs to defend against the litigation.
“We’ve created a bill that you could be proud of that really tries to mediate the line between the employer and the employee,” Morrell told his colleagues before they voted.
Louisiana has the largest pay gap in the nation. Women in Louisiana earn 65 cents on average for every dollar a man earns, compared to a national average of 79 cents, according to the governor’s office.
Morrell’s proposal would extend an equal pay law governing state workers to cover private industry. The measure lays out a process for filing a complaint — and later possibly a lawsuit — by employees who believe they’re entitled to more compensation and have been paid unequally compared to a worker of a different gender.
Morrell said the bill “makes it very difficult to get to the final phase of litigation.” He said an employer, confronted with an unequal pay complaint, could correct it without ever being required to pay back wages and without getting sued.
Under changes made Tuesday, the measure would only apply to businesses that employ 50 workers or more in Louisiana, and only to full-time employees.
Suspected violations would follow a specific complaint process requiring an employee to exhaust the entire procedure before the worker could file a civil lawsuit. A worker who successfully sues would be entitled to up to three years of unpaid wages.