Equal Pay Act

State Rep. Janet Buckner speaks at a statehouse rally for the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act on April 2. 

Equal pay for equal work is the law of the land in Colorado, again, after Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill Wednesday at the Capitol.

Senate Bill 85 puts state enforcement behind the federal Equal Pay Act, which passed in 1963. Polis began his address before signing the bill Wednesday by pointing out that then-Sen. Polly Baca introduced the first Colorado equal pay legislation in 1980.

"It took 39 years to get it done, but we got it done," Polis said.

Democrats have tried and failed for years to pass such a pay parity law, but Republicans then in the Senate majority bottled up the bill. Democrats won the majority in the chamber last November, however.

The new law gives direct authority to an individual to sue an employer over discrimination complaints based on gender. Currently the state investigates complaints and enforces existing law, which supporters of the new law said offered virtually no protections or guarantees.

The law also requires more transparency on pay and job openings, while preventing an employer from asking about a person's pay history.

Polis lauded the work of the bill's sponsors: Sens. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, with Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora.

Danielson spoke at the bill-signing ceremony holding her 2-year-old daughter, Isabelle Kabza.

"Thanks to this bill, Isabelle's career will be on a very different path," the senator said. "She will actually earn what she should and not be discriminated against because she's a woman.

"She won't have to toil away, day in and day out at a lesser wage simply because she's a girl. I'm proud to stand here with her, because she will be treated with fairness and dignity in the workplace and so will all Colorado daughters."

Pettersen said, "This will change what opportunities women have in Colorado."

Buckner spoke of the work the bill sponsors put in to pass the legislation after so many years of setbacks for the issue.

"This has been quite the journey, and when we were discouraged we never gave up as a team," she said. "... We're all here because we never gave up."

The bill passed this year with largely Democratic support, after members of the party had been trying to pass the bill for years, only to hit a roadblock in the state Senate.

Democrats won the majority in the Senate last November, while building on their majority in the House.

Republicans argued that the equal pay law would only burden small businesses with unnecessary litigation.

"Small businesses are not equal to large businesses, not even close," Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said during the bills House debate on April 3. 

"Small businesses don't have the luxury of legal departments. The private right of action contained in this bill ... could bankrupt a small business. Even those found not to have violated the law will be forced to spend thousands of dollars defending themselves in time and money."

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