Wisconsin has repealed a three-year-old law that allowed pay discrimination complaints to be pursued in state courts.
Gov. Scott Walker (R), who faces a recall election June 5, quietly signed the bill on Good Friday, along with scores of other laws that Walker critics claim reflect an anti-woman, anti-middle class tone for the state.
Under the Equal Pay Enforcement Act of 2009, employers found to engage in pay discrimination could be forced to pay anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 in damages.
The bill he signed on Good Friday limits pay discrimination suits to federal courts, after complaints are heard by the state’s Department of Workforce Development. Less than six weeks away from the recall vote, Walker, defended to Fox News affiliate WLUK-TV April 17 his enactment of that and scores of other laws on the eve of a holiday weekend. He said he repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act because it could be used by lawyers “to clog up the legal system.”
“Instead, the state Department of Workforce Development gets to be the one that ultimately can put people back and give them up to two years back pay if there is reason to believe there was pay discrimination in the workforce,” said Walker.
Critics said the new law will sustain the state’s low ranking nationally for womens’ pay. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH), noting that Wisconsin women, averaging 75-cents for every full dollar a man makes, lose $4,000 a year because of lower pay.
And even though women outnumber men among college undergraduates, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), one year after graduation there is a 5 percent pay gap between men and women, which expands to 12 percent over a decade.
“You could argue that money is more important for men,” state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R) told the Daily Beast. “I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious,”. Grothman led the movement against the Equal Pay Enforcement Act by introducing the legislation to repeal the law. On April 10, TV satirist Stephen Colbert dramatized the absurdities of the Grothman rationale on why women should be paid less.
The critics of the new law also voiced dismay about other legislation Walker signed that night to restrict insurance coverage of abortions and to limit sex education in public schools.
“By signing these bills into law, Gov. Walker has opened up another front in the Republican war on women,” said state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D), in a joint statement released by several legislators.
“The governor has made it clear that he believes women do not deserve equal pay for equal work, that women cannot be trusted to make their own health care decisions and that the government should be dictating the curriculum to local school districts,” said Sinicki, who helped author the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act.