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House votes down equal pay

April 20, 2000
By: Dan Shaw
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1569

JEFFERSON CITY - A major issue for womens' rights was dealt a decisive blow by Missouri's House Thursday.

In a 68-86 vote the House rejected a bill aimed at stopping employers from creating different titles for jobs that involve the same work with unequal pay.

Members of the opposition said the bill would duplicate existing statutes.

"There are already provisions in the federal law for people to make these cases," said Rep. Pat Secrest, R-St. Louis County, who helped vote the bill down.

Although it outlaws multiple forms of discrimination, debate on the proposition centered on whether women receive equal pay. Wage discrimination has been a key issue for women's rights groups across the nation.

Statistics showing a wage gap between men and women are skewed, said Secrest.

"I don't want to be a victim," said Secrest. "I want to be victorious."

Secrest was just one voice in a bipartisan opposition that included many Democrats, as well as a majority of Republicans.

One Democrat who broke ranks with the traditional position of his party is Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville. He objected to a provision allowing wage discrimination charges to be brought before a jury in state courts.

Federal courts currently hear wage discrimination cases.

Allowing plaintiffs to sue in state courts, Koller said, would make businesses vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. Disgruntled employees could use any work place problem as an excuse for taking action, he said.

"You are giving an employee a tool to regulate their salary through the court system," said Koller.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said the right to a jury trial is a "cornerstone of our judicial system."

Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Boone County agreed.

"I would rather have to face the prejudices of the twelve members of the jury than the prejudices of that one judge," he said.