Virginia Panel Defeats Equal Pay Bill

Susan Clarke Schaar has been serving as the clerk of the Virginia Senate for 28 years. Her counterpart, G. Paul Nardo has been the clerk of the Virginia House for six years.

Until last year, Schaar was earning $175,392, and Nardo was making $194,341. The less experienced House clerk was making $18,949 more than Schaar.

This obvious display of the gender pay gap within the walls of the Virginia Capitol was corrected last year because of an amendment brought both clerks to the same salary. However, less noticeable pay gaps are found throughout Virginia.

The National Partnership for Women and Families reported that the median annual pay for a woman who holds a full-time, year-round job is $42,342, and for a man, it’s $54,392.

Women in Virginia have an annual wage gap of $12,050 and are paid 78 cents to every dollar paid to men. The gap is more significant for women of color.

Sen. Jennifer Wexton’s bill, Senate Bill 419, would have amended the existing law requiring equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. The proposed legislation adds benefits, such as paid time off, to the list of things employers cannot discriminate against on the basis of gender.

It also prohibited employers from punishing employees for sharing salary information with their coworkers.

“The inability to find out what other employees are making is a barrier to women learning that they’re being discriminated against in the workplace,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

The proposed legislation would have also authorized courts to award attorney fees and costs to an employee who prevails in a lawsuit for wrongful withholding of wages or benefits.

The Senate Finance committee continued the bill until 2019 on Wednesday morning, 11-5.

Several Republican Senators who voted against the bill in the Finance Committee had previously voted in favor during other committee meetings. Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, admitted to having not initially read the bill when he voted in favor of it.

“The litigation aspect of it gives me a great deal of concern,” said Stuart. “That’s what I do for a living, and I know the mischief that can be caused by that.”

Other critics worried that the proposed legislation would be harmful to small business owners.

“By mandating the awards of attorney’s fees, we are concerned this would open up exposure to small business owners with lawsuits,” said Nicole Riley, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Many small business owners do not have (human resource) departments and in-house legal counsel to deal with these types of complaints.”

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