The proposed “Equal Pay for Equal Work Act” making its way through the Colorado legislature this year is sponsored by many legislators with really good intentions. It’s an admirable attempt to fix wage discrimination issues that still do exist in certain situations.  But it does just the opposite. It will harm women’s opportunities in the workplace, and here’s why.

Currently, if someone feels that they are unjustly being paid less than a male counterpart, for the same job and same performance, they can file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Employment and that complaint will be investigated.  It’s relatively easy to do and, if you have proof, appropriate action is taken against the employer and the situation is remedied. (And it didn’t cost the employee a single penny to file the complaint.)

This bill removes the authority of the director of the Department to enforce wage discrimination laws and forces the employee to file a civil lawsuit in court against her employer. That is a much more daunting task and something that most women would not feel comfortable doing on their own, without a lawyer. The process, undoubtedly, will take much longer to come to a conclusion, especially if the case goes to trial, which it can under this bill.  The unintended consequence of this is that fewer women, with legitimate complaints, will actually come forward.

Of course, the employer also will be forced to hire a lawyer.  And, if the employer loses the case, he or she is required to pay the employee’s legal expenses, but who pays the legal expenses for the employer if they prevail? (And let’s not assume that “employer” equals “male.” Colorado ranks ninth in the country for women-owned businesses.)  In the latter case, every party loses……. except the trial lawyers. The unintended consequence is the potential that both the employer and the employee have lost thousands of dollars on this legal action. Only the trial lawyers win – every time!

This is an expensive roll of the dice for any employer.  So why wouldn’t an employer, when faced with hiring either a male or female employee of equal skillset and experience for a particular job, reduce that risk and hire the male instead of the female?  The unintended consequence is that qualified females will be at a disadvantage in being hired in the first place!

This bill hurts women.  It eliminates opportunity rather than promoting it.  It will undoubtedly set us back decades.

Joni Inman
Executive Director
Colorado Women’s Alliance