By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama would end its status as one of two states without an equal pay for equal work law, under a bill advanced Tuesday by a House committee.
The legislation by Rep. Adline Clarke of Mobile would prohibit businesses from paying workers less than employees of another race or gender unless there are reasons such as seniority, a merit system or productivity to account for the difference.
The House Commerce and Small Business Committee approved the bill without a dissenting vote. It now moves to the House floor.
“It’s a fairness issue,” Clarke told committee members. “I think that all of us in here would like for our daughters, and our granddaughters … and all workers to get equal pay for equal work.”
Clarke says she believes most businesses are paying employees equitably. But she said it is important to have a state law that could be used as the basis for a civil lawsuit should problems arise. The legislation gives a one-year window “after the act of discrimination” for a person to file a lawsuit.
While there is a federal law prohibiting pay discrimination, the Mobile lawmaker said, states play a vital role in enforcement. Clarke said Alabama and Mississippi are the two states without pay equity laws.
“This law is going to help workers feel like they have a right to raise the issue if they feel they are being discriminated against,” Clarke said.
The Mobile Democrat has worked for three years to try to establish a state law on equal pay.
Melanie Bridgeforth of the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham commended Clarke for her work on the issue.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Bridgeforth said of committee passage.
Clarke had negotiated changes with a small business organization before bringing the bill to committee.
Rosemary Elebash, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said they wanted to make sure small businesses were not overburdened with paperwork requirements and would keep the ability to award high-performing employees.
The bill requires businesses with more than 50 employees to maintain records on wages, wage rates and other terms of employment. The record-keeping requirement is less stringent for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
This story has been corrected to correct the spelling of Rep. Adline Clarke’s first name.