JEFFERSON CITY - Women paid less for the same work than male counterparts on the job would be given stronger rights to sue under a bill approved by the House Tuesday.
Although upheld as a gender issue, the Equal Pay Ammendment in reality addressess jobs with different titles that are paid differently, but basically involve the same work.
"This bill is a product of being a women for all these years and getting paid less than men," said Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, the bill's sponsor.
According to 1996 statistics provided by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, women in Missouri holding full-time jobs annually make an average 67.5% of what a man makes. This pay gap is the 26th largest in the nation.
"That is wrong," Bray said.
But some lawmakers say these numbers are skewed.
Rep. Pat Secrest, R-St. Louis County, citing "Women's Figures", a book written by the Independent Women's Forum, says these figures don't tell the whole story.
You have to compare women to men not only by what job they hold, she said, but also by age group, experience, and by what opportunities they may have given up to do other things -- such as raise a family.
"You have to compare apples to apples," Secrest said.
Other concerns over the bill were raised by Rep. Jewell Patek, R-Chillicothe.
He said that wage discrimination is already banned by existing anti-discrimination statutes. Duplication of the laws, he said, would only make it harder for businesses to make sure they were in compliance.
"All we are going to do is put a burden on Missouri small businesses," Patek said.
For Bray, however, the issue is not so much what the law is but rather who determines the outcome of wage discrimination suits.
The Missouri Human Rights Commission, appointed by the governor, currently decides anti-discrimination suits. Under Bray's bill, wage related cases would be decided by a jury of peers.
"Women don't want some old gray haired guy deciding their cases," Bray said.
Republicans provided much of the opposition to the bill which was approved by a voice vote splitting largely along party lines Tuesday.
It still faces one more test in the House before moving on to the Senate. This tallied vote will likely occur Thursday, Bray said.