A Senate bill modifying the state’s law banning gender-based wage discrimination failed to pass a committee Thursday.
The bill by Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-OKC, would have increased the penalty for employers who are found to discriminate based on sex, while also giving jurisdiction over gender-based wage complaints to the state labor commissioner.
Senate Bill 194 would have provided cover to businesses, setting aside seven reasons they can pay a man and woman different wages for the same job.
“This bill is not a social statement,” Floyd told the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee. “This is not about equity or equality. This bill is simply about giving guidance to employers and employees.”
Oklahoma state law already outlaws gender-based pay discrimination, however, Floyd told the committee the law is too broad and lacks clarity for business.
Floyd’s bills would allow for pay discrepancies under seven circumstances:
1. A system that rewards seniority
2. A merit system
3. A system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production or sales
4. The geographic location in which a job is performed
5. Education, training, or experience
7. A differential based on any factor other than sex.
The penalty for noncompliance would be raised from the $100 set in 1965 to $200, while also requiring the employer to compensate backpay.
Floyd said she ran similar legislation in 2019. That bill passed out of committee 11-0 and cleared the House floor 40-4.
Several Republican lawmakers argued the proposal would hurt small businesses.
“When applicants come in, a lot of times a salary or wages can be very subject to negotiations and there’s quite a bit of back-and-forth,” Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Tulsa said. “I’m just concerned that would be fighting the freedom of the employer and the employee to come together through negotiations.”
Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, is the committee’s loan female senator.
“As a woman, I 100% agree that we have to have equality when it comes to payment and jobs,” She said. “We as women always talk about wanting to have a seat at the table and I’m a woman who is sitting in this room with a seat at the table. With that said I’m also a small business owner and my colleagues have raised a lot of good points.”
Even with Republican Sen. Adam Pugh, R-OKC, and Sen. Bill Coleman, R- Ponca City, joining the committee’s two Democrats, Sen. Michael Brooks, D-OKC, and Sen. George Young, D-OKC, the bill failed 4-9.