Senate passes Breen’s Equal Pay legislation

Posted: June 19, 2017 | Sen. Breen

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate on Friday gave initial approval to a bill by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, to fight the gender wage gap by requiring employers to pay fair, market-based wages regardless of their workers’ previous pay rates.

The measure passed by a vote of 22-13, with five Republicans joining all 17 Democrats in support of the bill.

The bill — LD 1259, “An Act Regarding Pay Equality” — would prohibit employers from asking asking prospective employees how much they earned at their previous or current job, and would guarantee workers the right to discuss wages without disciplinary action or retaliation by their employer. The Committee voted 6-5 Thursday to recommend the Legislature enact the bill.

Maine women earn an average of just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. According to data released last month by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Maine women earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. Annually, that’s an average wage gap of $10,093. All told, Maine women who are employed full-time lose nearly $3 billion every single year to the wage gap.

The “previous salary question,” perpetuates the wage gap. The answer to that question can result in a lowball salary offer well below market value. By basing future salaries on previous wages (which may have been discriminatory), employers perpetuate the earnings divide between the sexes. This practice is an albatross around women’s necks, limiting potential lifetime earnings.

“This vote shows that the Maine Senate is serious about ending wage discrimination — whether it is caused by explicit bias or unintentional but widespread business practices,” said Sen. Breen. “Workers should be paid a market-based salary that reflects their education, experience, qualifications, credentials and work ethic, regardless of whether a previous job underpaid them because of their gender — or any other reason,” Sen. Breen said. “If this bill becomes law, it will be a victory not only for the hundreds of thousands of Maine women who are underpaid, but for all workers that deserve fair compensation.”

LD 1259 would charge the Maine Human Rights Commission with enforcing the new prohibition on inquiring about previous salaries, just as it is charged with enforcing other anti-discrimination laws in Maine. Putting this provision under the auspices of the MHRC also means that other protected classes could also seek relief from income discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for an initial vote.