OPELIKA, Ala. (WTVM) - A new Alabama law going into effect Sunday prohibits employers from paying people differently for essentially the same work based only on sex or race.
Alabama is the second to last state to pass an equal pay law of its own. One local attorney says while it may seem like a symbolic law, it could have some very tangible effects on employees in the state.
Valerie Smith owns Southern Crossings and All Aboard in Opelika. She employees between eight and ten people in her stores.
“We have college girls, as well as ladies who have retired from teaching and other industries,” Smith said.
She was surprised that Alabama just passed a law aiming to end gender and race discrimination when it comes to wages. She assumed there had been one on the books for years.
“We should be light years beyond that,” she said.
But Alabama’s equal pay law doesn’t go into effect until September 1. It will be the 49th state to pass an equal pay law. Mississippi will be the only state remaining that does not have a similar law.
“That allows an employee to bring a state law claim if they’re being paid less than someone in the same position,” Barbi Agricola, an Opelika attorney, said.
Since 1963, there has been a federal equal pay act, but Agricola said making a discrimination claim on the state level could make a difference.
“You’ve got a better chance as an employee filing on the state level," she said. "For some reason, the juries and the statistics show that state law claims and state courts have better verdicts and better outcomes for plaintiffs.”
There are reasons why pay is allowed to be different.
According to Agricola, these include “seniority, a merit-based system, an incentive based system, based on sales and product.”
The law applies to both private and public businesses, no matter the size.
Agricola said the law is not retroactive, meaning the wage inequity would have to happen from September 1 on to file a claim in Alabama.
“The statue of limitations for these types of claims is two years,” Agricola said.
Smith is just glad there is a law now.
“I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against, whether gender, race or anything,” she said.