SAN ANTONIO — Funny. Texas' top leaders have been forthright in not wanting to make a federal case out of virtually any state issue. Unless, of course, it's about pay discrimination.
Pay equity has become a top campaign issue. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis, who introduced a state version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 in the state Senate, has made it so.
GOP nominee Greg Abbott has said he is for equal pay for women, but also that, like Gov. Rick Perry, he would have vetoed Davis' bill. The San Antonio Express-News revealed that the Attorney General's office that Abbott runs pays female assistant attorneys general $6,000 less, on average, than men in the same jobs.
And as Texas Attorney General, he successfully defended Prairie View A&M University in 2012 in a pay discrimination case. This involved a female professor who said she didn't learn about the pay discrimination until months after she was hired.
Back then he argued that federal protections — which now say suits can be filed within 180 days of the last discriminating paycheck — didn't apply under state law. The Texas Supreme Court agreed.
Candidate Abbott says it's his duty to defend the state the best he can but also that he wakes up in the morning, sues the federal government and goes home.
Davis' bill, he and others say, is unneeded because there are other protections. Well, among these is the trigger for when suits can be filed under federal law.
If that is among the “other protections,” doesn't a state Supreme Court ruling cast doubt on that? If Abbott believes the trigger shouldn't be that last paycheck, he's simply wrong.
But where undue disparities exist in a state, the most accessible and immediate tool to address these is state court. The state version of the Ledbetter Act would have left no doubt that this route was available.
More than 40 states passed their own versions and if this has resulted in the avalanche of state lawsuits feared, it has escaped attention.
And what's wrong if state lawsuits occur? State courts are as discerning of “frivolous” lawsuits as are federal courts, which are daunting to average folks as an avenue of redress in any case. Federal suits can be unwieldy and costly.
Yes, pay equity has become a political football. It's still a real issue.
And that's why a request from the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to form a panel to study pay equity at state agencies has merit, no matter who, ultimately, is governor or lieutenant governor.
Let's make a state case out of pay equity.