Contributed by: Sarah Parady, Colorado Women's Bar Association's President Elect and member of the Pay Equity Subcommittee
On April 17, 2019, the four women and six men of the House Business and Labor Affairs Committee listened to hours of testimony on Colorado’s own pay equity bill, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.
The representatives heard the dismal statistics: Despite passage of the federal Equal Pay Act in in 1963, women in Colorado lag behind men in pay by amounts that are staggering over the course of a lifetime. Compared to white men, white women in our state make 78 cents to the dollar, followed by Asian/Pacific Islander women at 70 cents, Black women at 63 cents, Indigenous women at 56 cents, and Latina women at only 54 cents. For an individual Latina, this amounts to an average lifetime wage gap of over $1 million dollars.
They heard the personal stories: One woman testified that she learned a male subordinate made far more than her when he complained about withholdings for child support and showed her his paycheck. Another testified that when she noticed she wasn’t receiving raises commensurate with her evaluations in her pharmaceutical company job, she had the courage to ask her male colleagues about their pay, and was staggered to learn she made less than two thirds of what they did—and that her company refused to correct the issue until it was purchased by a European competitor.
The bill before the Committee, which ultimately passed and will move on to the Appropriations committee for a vote that proponents hope will send it to the House floor, has been years in the making. From 2010 to 2015, a legislatively-created Pay Equity Commission studied the wage gap in Colorado and encouraged business to voluntarily take measure to equalize pay. The Commission was disbanded when the legislature refused to renew it in the 2015 session. In 2016 and 2017, a coalition of organizations concerned with the pay gap backed a series of bills designed to make incremental improvements to wage transparency and other related issues, with a mixed track record of passage.
Despite the value of these measures, the community and legislative partners behind them felt the time was ripe for a bolder step towards change. A high-profile case equal pay case involving female faculty members at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law drew national attention, and particularly the attention of the legal community in Colorado, many of whom were educated by the professor plaintiffs, when the EEOC found that the law school had underpaid them drastically compared to men (by an average of $15,000). The US Women’s National Soccer Team’s courageous self-advocacy raised the profile of the issue with the general public, and several other states including Massachusetts and New Jersey passed state-level measures designed to succeed where the federal EPA had failed.
The result was the bill that has now passed the Colorado Senate and its first House Committee. Under the CEPEWA, businesses would be responsible for taking a host of transparency measures to help make it easier for women to advocate for higher pay, such as sharing all promotional opportunities internally; posting a salary range in job announcements; and refraining from asking for applicants’ salary history. The bill also makes it possible for Colorado women to go to court to recover lost wages if they are paid less than male colleagues in equivalent roles, without a justification such as a difference in seniority, training, or job location. To address the reality that unequal pay is compounded by intersectional factors, women of color, older women, and women with disabilities can recover the entirety of the pay gap they experience even if other women in the workplace are paid more than they are.
Originally drafted by attorney members of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the bill has drawn support from a wide range of partners including businesses and business groups, advocacy groups supporting women and women of color, workers’ rights groups, and legal organizations.
As Coloradans, we live in a state with a stronger economy than most, but female workers and especially women of color have not shared equally in the benefits of growth. Women are paid less across industries, across the state, and throughout their careers. We are past due for a change, and hope that 2019 will be the year our elected officials will take on the pay gap.