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Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Passes TX House

Texas may soon take some important strides in gender equality.

In late April, the Texas House passed a bill to tweak state laws to conform to the national version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the first bill that President Obama signed into law in 2009). It's now heading to the Senate, where a companion measure has already made its way out of committee, thanks to State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).

In 2012, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the federal version of the Ledbetter Act doesn't offer protection in state cases. This bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), would extend the Ledbetter Act's protections to state cases, meaning women have more time to sue for wage discrimination and to seek restitution in state courts. Without it, women essentially have to become aware of discrimination and take action within six months of their first paycheck.

The law passed the House by a margin of 79-50, which means there are 50 members of the Texas House - all Republicans - who do not believe women should have more than 180 days from their first discriminatory paycheck to file suit against an employer.

Despite this disappointing opposition, if the bill becomes a law, Texas will be the first state in the nation to tweak its state laws to support the federal act.

The bill will also be an important step in addressing Texas's vast gender wage gap. According to the National Women's Law Center, women in Texas earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. 

Austin NOW, the Austin chapter of the National Organization for Women, has some fascinating and disturbing statistics about wage discrimination:

  • The wage gap persists in female-dominated industries. In education and health services, women on average make just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. In more traditionally male-dominated fields, the gap widens: in the financial industry, women make only 74 cents for every dollar made by men, and in manufacturing, women make just 71 cents.
  • The wage gap persists among people with professional degrees. Women with professional degrees are paid just 67 cents for every dollar paid to men with professional degrees. Women with doctoral degrees are still paid less than men with master's degrees, and women with master's degrees are paid less than men with bachelor's degrees.
  • The wage gap is even worse for women of color. African American women earn 60 cents and Hispanic women earn 45 cents for every dollar that a white man makes. That puts Texas at 39th in the wage gap for African American women and 47th for Hispanic women.
  • The wage gap results in huge losses for low-wage workers.Women make up 59 percent of low-wage workers and nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce. The typical woman who did not finish high school and who is working full time, year round, is paid about 71 percent of what of her male peer is paid, a gap that translates into an annual loss of more than $8,550 per year. This translates into a loss of over $342,000 over a 40-year career.

The Ledbetter Act may not be able to fix the systematic discrimination that women face in the workforce. But it will at least give women the rights to defend themselves.  

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