Abortion rights isn’t the only woman-centric issue that Democrat Wendy Davis is highlighting in her campaign to be the next governor of Texas. Davis introduced a bill that would grant women suing in state court for pay discrimination the same rights that women suing in federal court have. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill in 2013, even though 42 other states had already passed similar legislation. Davis’s opponent, Republican Greg Abbott, has publicly supported Perry’s veto. Abbott also successfully defended Prairie View A&M University against a pay discrimination lawsuit in 2012. Davis has been going hard against Abbott on this issue, and the attempts by Texas Republicans to defend him, and Perry’s veto, are falling flat.
The problem is that no one can explain what, exactly, they oppose in a bill that would have employed a minor fix to the current anti-discrimination legislation. Right now, you can only sue for pay discrimination 180 days after your first unfair paycheck, even if the plaintiff finds out she is being paid less than her colleagues after that window closed. Davis’ bill would have fixed that, making the window 180 days after your last unfair paycheck.
The reasons Republicans are giving for opposing this bill don’t make a lot of sense. The talking point seems to be that there was no reason to pass this law because it won’t fix anything. Cari Cristman of the Republican PAC RedState Women dismissed the need for the law, blaming women’s schedules for pay inequity. “We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether working from home, and times are extremely busy. It’s a busy cycle for women, and we’ve got a lot to juggle.” Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, echoed the idea that state legal changes are pointless, saying that the problem is that women need to be “better negotiators.” On MSNBC, Rick Perry got irritated at being asked about the bill and implored Democrats to focus on “substantive issues.” Perry then went on to claim that “we already have laws that protect” women from pay discrimination.
But all this begs the question: If Davis’ proposed bill wasn’t substantive and would have had no real impact on women’s pay inequality, then why did Republicans put time and resources into fighting it? If this bill would have no more impact, for good or ill, than renaming the local post office, then why not rubber-stamp it like legislatures generally do with fluffy or symbolic legislation? If Perry had signed it in 2013, then this would have become a political nonissue, and Davis would be casting around, looking for other ways to accuse Republicans of general sexism beyond just opposition to reproductive rights. Unless you are protecting employers who wish to discriminate—which Republicans swear up and down they are not doing—there is no reason on God’s green Earth to be against this bill. There’s no one besides discriminatory employers that could be hurt by this.
Of course, it’s simply untrue that this small tweak to anti-discrimination laws would be a waste of time. The reason Greg Abbott was successful in his defense of Prairie View A&M was that the plaintiff sued more than 180 days after receiving her first unfair paycheck, so the window of opportunity had closed. If Davis’ bill had been law then, it’s far more likely that Prairie View A&M would have lost. But if Republicans are so rock certain that this legislation wouldn’t make a bit of difference when it comes to the problem of pay inequality, then the swiftest way to get Wendy Davis to shut up about it is to pass her pointless bill into law.