General Assembly approves pay equity legislation


STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin and Rep. Susan R. Donovan to ensure pay equity for all employees, regardless of gender or ethnicity. The legislation now goes to the governor.

The legislation (2021-S 0270A, 2021 H 5261A) comprehensively addresses wage discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age and country of origin. It expands employee protections and the scope of the remedies available to employees who have experienced such discrimination.

“I have experienced first-hand what it’s like to be paid unequally when you are doing comparable work,” stated Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “It’s a devastating blow, both emotionally and financially, for so many women and people of color across Rhode Island. Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families, and we deserve to be compensated equally. This bill has been my priority since my first term in the legislature, and I am thrilled to see it pass the General Assembly. ”

Said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), “This legislation provides employees a more effective, realistic set of tools for addressing unfair pay practices, and it helps our state identify unequal pay where it occurs. While we have always known wage disparity is a problem, the pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce completely, compounding the inequity women already faced. This bill would go a long way toward addressing the gaping holes in our existing fair pay laws and establishing financial stability for Rhode Island employees and their families.”

The bill:

  • Ensures that all employees are paid fairly and equally.
  • Provides that, if an employer violates the law, employees may be eligible to collect back pay, unpaid wages and damages.
  • Allows a job applicant, employee, or former employee to seek relief from an employer’s unlawful pay practices at the Department of Labor and Training or in court.
  • Evens the playing field for job applicants and employees who are negotiating wages and salary with an employer. The legislation requires more transparency from employers with regard to wage ranges and protects applicants and employees from potentially damaging wage history information.
  • Protects employers who are proactive and conduct a wage audit in order to fix any unlawful pay practices.

The passage of the bill has been sought by the sponsors and supporters for years. Senator Goldin has sponsored the legislation since 2015, and Representative Donovan has sponsored it since 2018. The Senate has passed it several times, and the House passed a version of it once, but it took until today for the bill to make it to final passage.

According to data from the National Women's Law Center, women working full time, year-round typically make only 82 cents for every dollar men make nationally; the size of the disparity varies by state. In Rhode Island, women overall earn 84.8 cents for every dollar men earn.

Wage disparities disproportionately impact women of color: Black women in Rhode Island earn 60.9 cents and Latinas earn 52.6 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns. Additionally, women make up 65.2% of frontline workers in Rhode Island. Black and Latina women are overrepresented among frontline workers.



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