Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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Guest column: Gender pay gap must be addressed

Last year was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” after our nation and state both saw historic advances in women’s representation.

Nevadans sent a mostly female congressional delegation to Washington and elected the first female-majority Legislature to Carson City. But unfortunately, there’s an issue where women are still fighting for the bare minimum: pay equity.

Across the country, wage discrimination is a pervasive issue holding us back. Women are losing on average $400,000 over the course of their careers — a number that’s even higher for black and Hispanic women. In Nevada, employment law has not fully addressed issues relating to wage disparities. Women in the Battle Born State make on average 83 cents for every dollar men make. Meanwhile, black women here make on average 66 cents to every dollar paid to men, and Latinas make just 54 cents on the dollar.

We must act; we can no longer afford not to. At the state level, we can take action to address gender-based wage discrimination — which is why I’ve introduced a bill this session to strengthen existing state employment laws modeled after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

This bill, which I expect will pass the Legislature and be signed by the governor, will allow Nevada to provide an employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against in the workplace with more time to bring forward a claim for employment discrimination. But we need the federal government to do more, led by a president who understands how critical pay equity is for women’s economic empowerment. Kamala Harris will be that president.

Last week, Harris released the most aggressive equal pay proposal in history. It has a simple message: Pay women fairly or pay the price. She’ll require corporations to show they’re not engaging in pay discrimination, and fine companies that fail to close their pay gaps. If companies are found to be engaging in wage discrimination, they’ll be fined 1% of their profits for every 1% wage gap they allow.

And her plan will go even further. The fines collected will be invested in universal paid family and medical leave, and the plan will significantly strengthen and expand anti-discrimination protections to ensure all workers, no matter the size of their employer, are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This is a transformative plan that empowers women and reverses the economic injustices we have experienced since we entered the labor market.

This plan makes it clear that Harris is listening to the needs of women all over the country. Nevada families need Harris’ equal pay plan, and we need her in the White House.

Pat Spearman was first elected to the Nevada Senate in 2012. She serves District 1, which covers a large portion of North Las Vegas.