State Equal Pay Act Survives the Senate

A bill that seeks to prevent pay discrimination against women narrowly passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday.

"Employers who are doing the right thing and treating women fairly don’t view this bill as a threat," said state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "Equal pay decisions should be made in the CEO's office rather than a courtroom."

House Bill 950by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would make Texas law mirror protections of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It sparked a gender fight in the House last month, and it squeaked out of the Senate with a vote of 17-14. Senators added two amendments to the bill, which means it must return to the House for approval if it is to go to Gov. Rick Perry's desk for approval.

The measure clarifies that pay discrimination claims based on "sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability" accrue whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck. Under the measure, a 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.

Texas is the 43rd state to pass such an act.

The bill would change Texas Labor Code by making the state statute of limitations the same as the federal law, giving those who have been discriminated against more time to collect damages.

One change to the bill, made by state Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, would limit the equal protection rights to wages, and not to benefits or other compensation. Another change came from state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and it would require that the act apply only to claims that occur on or after the law takes effect in September.

Thompson said she filed an equal pay bill 10 years ago that never made it out of the Senate. She said she always intended to file it again.

"I have two granddaughters, and I'd like them to have the privilege to be able to work and get equal pay, along with everyone else's daughter or grandchild," she said.

Morgan Smith contributed to this story.

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