By Scott Manley
Vice President of Government Relations
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
Liberal Democrat lawmakers recently joined a handful of left wing activist groups to perform what now appears to be a recurring campaign ritual of the left: accusing the business community and Republicans of supporting lower wages for women.
This absurd and unfounded accusation is a last-ditch effort to galvanize the liberal political base in the run up to the election.
The Democrats’ breathless and self-righteous claims of indignation over this manufactured drama is a show of calculated political theater to demonstrate their unflinching loyalty to their trial lawyer donors. More on that in a moment.
The crux of the left’s false claim is that Governor Walker and legislative Republicans voted to overturn Wisconsin’s equal pay law, thereby allowing evil businesses to pay female workers less, and leaving women with no means to seek redress for an act of wage discrimination in the workplace. They cite as their example the repeal of 2009 Act 20.
Their claim is an outright lie, and the fact that they continue to level this false charge weeks before an election demonstrates their motive is little more than deceitful political opportunism.
Let’s have a reality check.
Fact: Women have enjoyed protection from wage discrimination under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) for decades. The repeal of Act 20 did absolutely nothing to change the fact that it’s illegal for employers to engage in wage discrimination on the basis of gender.
Fact: Women may file a claim for wage discrimination in Wisconsin, and are entitled under the law to receive back pay in the amount they should have been paid if discrimination is proved. The repeal of Act 20 did absolutely nothing to change this.
Fact: Act 20 did nothing to establish an equal pay mandate in Wisconsin law – current law already prohibited wage discrimination based on gender.
Fact: What Act 20 did establish was a means to make discrimination lawsuits more profitable for trial lawyers by allowing plaintiffs to seek punitive damages on top of the other legal remedies available under current law.
Fact: Women remain entitled to sue for punitive damages for alleged acts of wage discrimination under federal law, despite the repeal of Act 20.
Alas, we have uncovered the true purpose behind Act 20: making discrimination lawsuits more profitable. It’s really about a bigger payday for trial lawyers, not workers.
Making lawsuits more profitable is certainly good for trial lawyers, but it’s bad for businesses.
To be clear, WMC and the business community as a whole believe that businesses that discriminate against female employees should be held to account in our legal system. We support the legal remedies available to compensate employees for acts of workplace discrimination.
However, the effort to make these lawsuits more expensive under Act 20 also makes it more expensive for businesses to defend baseless discrimination claims. Consider the fact that Wisconsin judges have only found wage-based gender discrimination in three cases in the three-year period from January of 2011 through April of 2014. That’s infrequent by any standard.
It’s also important to remember that every dollar an employer spends defending a groundless discrimination lawsuit is a dollar that cannot be spent to raise wages or hire additional workers.
PolitiFact Wisconsin has busted the Democrats’ equal pay claims as false on three separate occasions when Mary Burke, Kathleen Falk and Rep. Cory Mason attempted to smear Republicans.
Having been called out publicly for lying about this issue three times, one might wonder why Democrats continue to repeat this false claim.
Could it be the fact that trial lawyers have already given Democrat candidates at least $480,000 in hard money campaign contributions since 2011?
Could it be that Democrats feel compelled to show their loyalty to this important political benefactor during the heat of the campaign cycle?
Maybe that’s a half million dollar question.
Scott Manley is the Vice President of Government Relations at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC).