SANTA FE – With New Mexico women making 79 cents to every dollar paid to men, lawmakers on Monday voted to give women who have complaints about pay discrimination readier access to the legal system.
The House, on a unanimous vote and without debate, passed the Fair Pay for Women Act.
House Bill 216, which goes to the Senate, would give women an easier route to workplace justice than is currently offered under the state Human Rights Act, according to its supporters.
The legislation would prohibit employers of four or more people from discriminating, based on sex, in the wages they pay.
Women who complain they’re being paid less than their male counterparts for doing equal work would be able to file suit in state district courts under the legislation.
Those courts could issue injunctions, and complainants could be eligible for triple damages and for punitive damages.
Sponsor Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the legislation “brings opportunities for justice closer to home.”
Egolf said pursuing pay discrimination complaints under the Human Rights Act is unwieldy, legally burdensome, and slow – and therefore largely unused.
The alternative is to file a complaint in federal court, which can be inconvenient and expensive, he said.
The bill’s supporters say the legislation would make a difference particularly to women who earn low wages.
Low-wage women “will finally have the resources to file claims and recover the wages that they earned and need to support themselves and their families,” said the Rev. Holly Beaumont, organizing director of Interfaith Worker Justice-New Mexico.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, citing information from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 in New Mexico the typical woman working full-time, year-round, was paid 79 cents to every dollar paid to a man working full-time, year-round.
Nationwide, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid.
The disparity was even greater for African-American and Hispanic women. African-American women were paid 56 cents and Hispanic women 53 cents to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, the law center said.
— This article appeared on page A3 of the Albuquerque Journal