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Women’s Equality Act moves forward

June 21st, 2013  |  Deborah Hammonds

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the inequities women in New York face based on gender took a leap forward as the New York State Assembly passed the Women’s Equality Act on June 20. The comprehensive legislation (A.8070) is designed to help women overcome many discriminatory practices and obstacles as well as reaffirming a woman’s freedom to choose.

Pay inequity. One of the issues the Act addresses is pay inequity. Under current state law, employers are prohibited from paying employees of the opposite sex a lesser wage rate for equal work on a job that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and that is performed under similar working conditions, except where payment is made pursuant to a differential based on seniority, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or any factor other than sex.

The Act proposes to achieve pay equity by eliminating the ability of employers to point to “any other factor other than sex” to justify pay disparities and instead require that their pay decisions be based on legitimate reasons. In addition, the legislation would protect an employee’s right to share wage information with other employees without being retaliated against, and increase damages to successful plaintiffs in pay equity discrimination cases.

Sexual harassment. The Act would implement a significant change regarding sexual harassment. Currently, women who work for employers with fewer than four employees cannot file sexual harassment complaints as those employers are currently exempt from the harassment law. A measure in the Women’s Equality Act enacts a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and would ban sexual harassment in all workplaces.

Other measures. In addition, the legislation would make employment discrimination against women who have children illegal, protect victims of domestic violence against discriminatory practices when they attempt to rent or lease housing, and strengthen human trafficking laws. The Act would also codify existing federal law to protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks, or when necessary to protect her life or health.

Cuomo hailed the Assembly’s action, noting the passage brings the state “one step closer to addressing gender inequalities in our state and restoring New York as a national leader of women’s rights. The Assembly had the courage to stand up on behalf of the women of New York, and now the Senate must do the same. Each and every part of the Women’s Equality Act is vitally important to the future of women in our state and New Yorkers deserve to know where all their elected representatives stand on all of them.”