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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Introduce Pay Equity, Anti-Discrimination Legislation.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila.).
Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila.).
Office of Pa. State Rep. Brian Sims.

In portending much of what President Barack Obama addressed in the State of the Union Address regarding supporting the middle class, a pair of Pennsylvania State Representatives introduced earlier this month a bill that would “clarify and update” legal standards as they are applied to pay-equity lawsuits.

Pa. State Reps. Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny) and Brian Sims (D-Phila.) introduction of the House Bill 1890 – an act that amends the Equal Pay Law – is also in line with Democratic political dogma, and echoes similar initiatives put forth by other Pennsylvania lawmakers, as income inequality is quickly becoming a surging issue ahead of statewide elections.

“The average woman ears 84 cents per hour for every dollar a man makes. In the Pittsburgh region, the wage gap is closer to 73 cents per dollar,” Molchany said. “While the entirety of the wage gap can’t be blamed on discrimination, the fact that any of it could be attributed to someone’s sex demands attention.”

HB 1890, according to Molchany’s office, updates the circumstances under which an employer could pay different wages because of factors outside of gender, including education, training and experience. The bill would also “strengthen anti-retaliation protections for employees attempting to bring a pay-equity lawsuit against” their employer and those who share information regarding that employee’s pay.

Sims, as the first openly gay legislator in Pennsylvania history to be elected to a statewide office, has focused much of his office’s attention on matters of equality, be it for pay, race or advocating on behalf of the LGBT community, said it is beyond time for the state’s legislatures to update the archaic law.

Pay equity laws have been around for 40 or more years. Clearly, it’s time to strengthen and update them to bring about real equity for the many working women in Pennsylvania who are still shortchanged,” Sims said. “We live in a country that guarantees each of us full equity under the law. Right now, in this country and in this state, more than half of our population is being insidiously discriminated against. This bill is long overdue.”

Molchany, secretary of the Consumer Affairs Committee, concurred.

“This agenda is not just about reproductive health,” Molchany said. “It’s about economic justice, support fro families, and making Pennsylvania a national leader in supporting all of its citizens with the tool to succeed.”

HB 1890 now awaits consideration in the Labor and Industry Committee.

In a joint memo to Harrisburg peers, Molchany and Sims further explained the need to update the law.

“Act 694 was a landmark piece of legislation that started our state down a path of equality in the workplace for all Pennsylvanians. But the law must be updated to reflect the current reality and the fact that much work still needs to be done for women working in this state. To further clarify that equal work should result in equal pay, this legislation will reinforce the conditions under which employers can pay different wages because of a ’factor other than sex’ and strengthen protections for those attempting to bring a case against their employer,” read a portion of the memo. “Under this legislation, factors considered in equal pay defense are more clearly defined to ensure they are not based on or arrived from sex-based differences. Bona fide factors other than sex include education, training, or experience. Additionally, this legislation provides increased protection against discrimination or discharge when an employee has filed a complaint against an employer under the act. Furthermore, important protections are provided in circumstances where employees have inquired about, discussed or disclosed wage information.

“This bill is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a comprehensive proposal to address the real issues affecting Pennsylvania women today.”

While the efforts of Molchany and Sims represent action from the state’s lower chamber, members of the Pennsylvania State Senate have been busy lately on related bills as well, as State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th District) recently introduced a bull legalizing same sex marriage in the state, while State Sen. Pat Browne (D-16th District) introduced a bill last year that prohibits discrimination in housing and accommodations due to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

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