The Colorado Senate gave initial approval to the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act Wednesday morning.
The bill would allow those who feel underpaid because of their gender to sue their employer, without first going to the state Department of Labor and Employment as now required. The bill makes exceptions for an employee's experience and education.
Senate Bill 85 also would prohibit potential employers asking people about their salary history.
"We've created a way for women to hold their employer accountable for the first time ever," said Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Republicans who said they supported the concept of equal pay but not the bill said it would cripple small business with lawsuits.
"Creating more private causes of action creates more litigation and makes it more difficult for small businesses and creates more jobs for lawyers," said Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who is a lawyer.
The bill still must pass the Senate on a recorded roll call vote before it can bounce to the House.
Democrats have passed similar bills in the House in recent years, but the bills died when Republicans held the majority in the Senate. Democrats won a Senate majority last year.