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Legislation in Wisconsin might help close wage gap

Many employment disputes arise not because there are grey issues with employment law itself, but because it is difficult at times to enforce these laws. For example, discrimination in just about any shape or form is illegal in the workplace. This is a very clear cut issue, however, workers do not always know their rights when it comes to discrimination and even when they do it can be difficult to prove their cases and remedy them.

Here in Wisconsin, a state senator is currently working on a law that might make it easier for victims of employment discrimination to stand up for their rights. Sen. John Lehman co-authored the pay equity bill, which, if passed, would allow victims of discriminatory wage practices to sue for damages in Wisconsin. Currently, they can only seek back pay and job reinstatement, among other make-whole remedies.

This legislation is a good example of an employment issue that exists in part because the law is difficult to enforce. The Equal Pay Act made it illegal to pay unequal wages to employees who perform substantially similar work back in 1963, but today nearly 50 years later, it has been estimated that Wisconsin women earn only 78 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts.

As it stands, in order to seek damages after Equal Pay Act violations, victims in Wisconsin generally must take their cases to federal court, which is more expensive.

It remains to be seen how this bill will fare in the state legislature. In the past, similar bills have not done well. Critics say it would hurt the business climate, even though the bill would allow employers an opportunity to settle with victims out of court.

For now, victims of wage violations and discrimination are wise to seek legal counsel to learn whether recourse is possible.

Source: The Journal Times, "Lehman says state law need to protect victims of discrimination," Alison Bauter, Dec. 28, 2012

  • More information about gender-based discrimination in the workplace is available on our Milwaukee employment law firm's Sex Discrimination page.

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