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Gov. Kate Brown signed the bipartisan bill in her ceremonial office at the Oregon Capitol in Salem Thursday, June 1. Brown has said she was paid less than her male colleagues when she worked as a lawyer.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - Gov. Kate Brown signs the 2017 Oregon Pay Equity Act into law Thursday, June 1, in her ceremonial office at the Oregon Capitol in Salem.SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown has signed into law a pay equity bill that allows victims of wage disparity to recover up to two years of back pay by filing a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Professional women have focused on the pay gap between the sexes since women entered the workforce, but discrimination laws have been difficult to enforce, the bill's proponents said.

During the signing ceremony at the Oregon Capitol Thursday, June 1, Trish Garner, state public policy chairwoman of the American Association of University Women of Oregon, brought copies of a report that the Association of Collegiate Alumni produced in 1896, asking why women received less pay for equal work.

"While the time may have been a little farther off than the women who prepared this report might have anticipated, they are, if only in spirit, standing with us today expressing their thanks to everyone who worked to ensure equal pay for women," Garner said.

The safeguard applies to women and all other protected classes, such as minorities, older people, veterans and people with disabilities. The bill also prohibits employers from asking a job candidate for their wage or salary history.

The bipartisan bill passed the Senate unanimously after sponsors of the bill negotiated several changes to satisfy the business community.

As legislators were discussing potential compromises in the bill, "we kept in mind some very special people," said Sen. Tim Knopp, D-Bend.

"Those special people are our daughters, the next generation who will benefit for an entire career because of this legislation."

As the senator spoke, he acknowledged his 9-year-old daughter, Grace, who witnessed Brown sign the legislation and was given one of the pens the governor used as a souvenir.

The governor disclosed during her 2016 campaign that she was paid less than her male counterparts in a law firm where she used to work.

The bill provides a phased-in effective date and removes punitive damages when employers can show they have conducted a pay equity analysis in the past three years and made progress toward equal pay.

Exceptions to the law are made for inequity that results from an employer paying a worker more to match another employer's offer and differences in experience, productivity, seniority or education level.

An analysis of state executive branch salaries and wages by the Center for Public Service showed a consistent pattern of pay gaps between men and women and minorities and non-minorities. Women were estimated to earn $380 less a month than men, the analysis showed.

National studies show pay disparities between workers with disabilities and those without are even greater, said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon.

"One of the things about being at a disadvantage in the workplace in terms of hiring and maintaining work is that you are willing to accept conditions that might not be equal to others because it is harder to find a job and harder to keep a job," Joondeph said.

The House passed the original bill March 28 by a 36-to-24 vote and in late May, unanimously approved the Senate's changes to the legislation.

"We started out with two positions that were sort of far apart, which is how you begin negotiating complicated and important legislation, but we didn't stop there," said Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, referring to previous disagreements with Republicans over the bill. "…That's the kind of thing we can do with strong leadership and teamwork."

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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