State Sen. Susan Lee (center, wearing blue) with Gov. Larry Hogan (center, seated) and Maryland legislators at the signing of the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.
On average, women in America earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. In Maryland, women make about 84.3 cents for every dollar a man makes, on average. Women of color face a racial wage gap on top of the gender gap. Compared to white non-Hispanic men, Asian-American women make about 82.2 cents on the dollar, African-American women 69 cents, and Latinas 47.1 cents.
While Maryland fares better than many other states, any gap is unacceptable. Because many women are increasingly the primary or co-breadwinner for their families, this means they are losing millions of dollars each year that could be spent on food, housing, education and other essentials.
Instead of waiting for Congress to pass national legislation, Maryland has moved forward in passing the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which significantly updates and strengthens our state’s existing pay equity law.
I was proud to help spearhead the passage of the law together with my Maryland General Assembly colleagues, and women, family, labor and business leaders throughout the state. It was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in May.
This new law increases transparency in the workplace by allowing employees to ask about, discuss, or request information about wages without fear of retaliation or being fired and bans employers from forcing their workers to sign waivers regarding wage discussions or information requests. Some of the greatest barriers to women being able to better negotiate and secure equal pay are the result of many companies discouraging or outright banning employees from discussing or asking about their wages. This blanket of secrecy has made it almost impossible for women to know if they are being underpaid for comparable work done by their male counterparts or to seek relief under federal, state, or local laws.
In addressing the barriers women often face in being promoted to nontraditional, higher paying jobs, this law also bans “mommy tracking” where employers provide less favorable employment opportunities by directing or assigning less favorable career tracks; failing to provide information on promotion or advancement opportunities; or limiting or depriving an employee of employment opportunities that would be otherwise available, but for an employee’s sex or gender identity.
We in Maryland are proud of our history of passing progressive legislation to uplift and empower all hardworking people. Our Equal Pay for Equal Work law is about fundamental fairness and will help close discriminatory wage gaps; enable women to support themselves and their families; strengthen our middle class by boosting the local economy; and ensure workplaces promote transparency, fairness, merit and productivity.
Susan C. Lee is a Maryland state senator.